Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to start out by apologizing. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the liturgical year has set aside this day as a day of repentance and fasting. Now I’m apologizing because, for me at least, last year’s Lent ever really ended. We’ve been fasting from so much for so long. Being in isolation, separated from our loved ones, forbidden from our sanctuaries, and not to mention being catapulted into this new virtual reality. I get it — this is how we stay safe, this is how we love our neighbors right now. But I’ll be honest, friends, I’m getting tired of Zoom.
And that’s why I’m sorry today. I’m sorry that we’re about to liturgically invite you into a 40-day period of fasting and self-reflection and almsgiving and prayer and whatnot, especially when it seems like we’ve been in Lent since last March.
But for me, Lent has always been about something more than fasting and prayer. In a word, it’s about grace. See, Lent is the time when we’re encouraged to reorient our lives toward the love of God. No matter how far we’ve strayed, no matter what things might’ve gotten in the way, we have a chance to start over. To be made new. To make things right with the God who loves us and calls us by name.
And I think that’s an important message for Ash Wednesday. I mean, if I had to give a textbook answer to the question “What is Ash Wednesday,” I’d have to say it’s the day we look at our mortality, right? The ashen cross upon our brow traces the cross made in oil at baptism, where God claimed us as beloved and calls us her own. We usually remember that we are dust, and we are reminded that someday we will return to that dust from whence we came. Mortality, sin, death. I think that covers it. Or does it?
Tonight, we won’t be marking our brows with ash, and in a pandemic I don’t think it’s helpful to remind you that you will die someday. But I do think today is a great day to remind you that the cross on your forehead from the day of your baptism is still there. And the words which echoed from heaven, the words we heard a few weeks ago in the gospel and we’ll hear them again on Sunday, these words are still true: “You are my Child, the Beloved; with you God is well pleased.”
And so in a few minutes we’ll take some water — ordinary, life-giving water — and we’ll mark our foreheads, remembering that we are beloved children in whom God delights. And may that remembrance invite you into a new kind of Lent: a time of grace in the midst of uncertainty, a time of hope in the midst of the wilderness, a time of rest in this rat-race called life.
So many of the words we heard tonight — from Isaiah to the Psalm to Jesus’ words in the gospel — these readings are a call to self-reflection. It’s an invitation to look at ourselves, not the way the world sees us, not even the way we see ourselves, but the way God looks at us: beloved, holy, whole. And maybe once we see ourselves the way God sees us, we can start to be kinder to ourselves and to each other. We can share the love of God in new ways to new neighbors. Maybe that’s what Lent can be this year.
Our mortality is important to remember. Our brokenness and sinfulness harm all of creation. But tonight, I want you to remember that you are baptized, free, forgiven. I want you to remember that the love of God is both at hand and right around the corner. I want you to remember that the bonds of injustice will be loosed, the oppressed will go free, the hungry will have bread, the naked will be clothed, and the light of Christ shall break forth like the dawn.
May it be so. Amen.