Today on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we hear these words:
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”—The Book of Common Prayer
These words from The Book of Common Prayer begin to answer the question of why we have the season of Lent. It is a gift the Church has given us. It gives us a time to take inventory of ourselves—to look at the things done and left undone in our lives. It gives us time to look at where in our lives we are moving toward God or where we are actually moving away from God. It gives us time to look at the relationship we have with ourselves and with others. Are we acting in love or un-love?
St. Benedict, in the Rule for his monasteries, liked for his monks to make a little Lent each day, to examine themselves each day, but most of us don’t, or won’t, take time for this. Lent is a time to make space in our life for God and it calls us to certain practices that help us do this.
Today, ashes are imposed on our foreheads with the following words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We remember that we are created by God to live in a relationship of Love with him and with others. Dust doesn’t mean that we are worms, of little or no account, crawling around in the dirt. Dust is a creation of God and it helps us know who we are. God has known forever. Isaiah says, “Before I was born the Lord called me.”—Isaiah 49:1. The psalmist acknowledges this as he says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”—Psalm 139:13.
We remember that God passionately desires to have this relationship with us. He remembers us. He says in Isaiah, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”—Isaiah 49:15-16. God loves us. He misses us.
We remember that we often fall short of living in this relationship in our daily lives and we need help. Lent brings us to this, and so we pray, “Forgive us, Lord, when we forget these things and start believing we are the creator and can do our own thing. We are sorry. Restore us again. Transform us. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.”
I pray that your Lenten practices will help you remember and come closer, once again, to the One who loves you most and to the ones with whom you travel this journey. Mine, too. – dlw