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Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
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ASH WEDNESDAY
Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:1-2, 8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10;
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
The Rev. Janet Campbell
 
 
 
It’s not a pro forma thing
we do today,
this day of penitence and ashes,
 
not something we do
for the sake of appearance . . .
in order to be seen or praised by others.
 
If we do it to be seen or praised by others,
our reward will be . . .
being seen . . .  and praised . . .
 
No,
what we do today
is a much needed,
enacted truth-telling
about ourselves
and about God.
 
And our reward,
life well-lived
in a deepening relationship
with God
and each other.

So we come to tell the truth today.
 
About ourselves:
the truth
that despite our best efforts,
we have sinned:
 
we have said and done things
that have distanced us
from God and
from one another . . .
 
. . . and to bridge
the widening gulf,
we are in need of
God’s mercy
and forgiveness.
 
 
About God:
the truth
that on this day
and every day,
God responds to our every need
with compassion . . .
 
No matter how far
we may have
distanced ourselves from God,
God has never been,
and will never be,
distant from us.
 

God comes to us
not with harsh judgment
but with the mercy
and forgiveness we need
to forgive one another
and ourselves.
 
Kneeling under God’s gaze of
profound love
 
we are in a safe place,
here, together,
to tell ourselves the truth,
in communion with one another . . .
 
the truth
that we have sinned,
and do sin,
and will sin,
 
and that – still – even so –
we are God’s beloved
and can never fall out
of God’s love.
 

God waits for this day
not in condemnation
but with anticipation
and rejoicing . . .
 
for
our acknowledgement
of our weakness
makes room in us
for God’s strength,
 
our acknowledgement
of our sins
makes room in us
for God’s grace,
 
our acknowledgement
of our need for forgiveness
makes room in us
for God’s mercy.
 
Making room for God,
we can begin again.
 
 
The ashes we will receive
on our foreheads
are a sign of the truth we have told,
a sign of
          sorrow for our sins
a sign of repentance
          and trust in God’s love.
 

There’s something else
we tell the truth about today –
and of which the ashes are a sign:
 
something else
we really don’t like
to face:
 
the truth
that we are temporary,
that our earthly lives are passing away –
we are dust and to dust we shall return.
 
What we do on our temporary sojourn
          in this world matters,
and we don’t have
all the time left in the world
          to do it.
 
But when we face the truth
that we will die
          to life in this world
(and there is no escaping it)
we are, paradoxically,
set free to be fully alive,
free
of the dread and fear
that diminish our capacity
          to live boldly, expansively
          while we are here.
 

The ashes on our forehead
are a sign of this truth we have told,
a sign of our mortality,
a sign that we must stop clinging to life
          if we are truly to live.
 
 
We are marked on our foreheads
with this ashy sign of the cross,
 
the same sign
in the same place
on our bodies
 
as the cross with which
we were marked
          at our baptism,
 
only that time the cross was of chrism,
the fragrant oil of baptism,
sealing us with the holy spirit
and marking us as Christ’s own for ever,
          with the sweet scent of life in Christ.
 
Through baptism
we have died to sin
and been born again
to new and risen life in Christ,
eternal life shared with us even now.
 

Yes, we come today
to admit
that we have sinned,
and in the Litany of Penitence,
to name all the ways we can think of.
 
But we have also come
to proclaim
that sin’s power to hold us in thrall
has been broken once for all
by the dying and rising of Christ.
 
 
And so, with truth-telling and ashes,
Lent begins,
 
our season of self-examination and repentance,
our season of thoughtfulness and simplicity,
our season of turning toward God,
and returning
          to the disciplines and practices that shape us,
          grow us,
          in the Christian faith and life:
 
The disciplines and practices
of prayer, study, fasting, alms-giving,
and worship in community,
          for this is a communal journey
          we undertake.
 

We do not enter into Lent
to make God like us better,
to seek God’s approval,
to prove something to ourselves and to God,
 
We do not engage in our disciplines and practices
as a method of self-improvement,
or to seek the approval
          or admiration of others.
 
There is danger inherent
in “practicing our piety before others,”
and in practicing our piety
          before ourselves,
          in a looking-in-the-mirror,
                   self-measuring kind of way.
 
 
What we are about in these practices
is cultivating the willingness
to let go of our false imaginings of who we are
to become who God is calling us to be
 
to grow more deeply
in our relationship with God
by loving more deeply the world God loves,
 
to live the kind of fast
God calls for
through the prophet Isaiah:
“to loose the bonds of injustice . . .
to let the oppressed go free . . .
to share our bread with the hungry . . .
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.”
What we are about in these practices
is to remember what is our true treasure . . .
 
the presence of God in Christ
          in our lives,
 
Christ’s giving of himself for us,
 
Christ inviting us into his life
          of self-offering, self-sacrifice
                   for the life of the world,
 
Christ loving and serving us
that we might love and serve,
           on his behalf,
those who are most vulnerable among us
          in our community,
                   in the world.
 
 

We are come again to the church’s springtime,
the church’s blossoming into new life,
coinciding, in the northern hemisphere,
with the renewal of nature:
          the warming of the soil,
          the flowering of plants and trees,
          the return of birdsong,
          and the growing of the light . . .
 
and here in the Pacific Northwest
the incessant spring rains,
harbinger of new life
and watery reminder of our baptism.
 
The springtime of the Church
is the season of quiet preparation
for the great feast of Easter:
          the celebration of new baptisms
          and the renewal of our own baptism,
 
a season of return
to the practice of baptismal living,
and our own blossoming into resurrection.
 
 
 

As the beginning of the
Eucharistic Prayer for Lent proclaims,
 
“We prepare with joy
for the Paschal feast
that fervent in prayer
and in works of mercy,
and renewed by God’s Word and Sacraments
we may come to the fullness of grace
which God has prepared
for those who love God.”                      [Second Proper Preface of Lent BCP p. 379]
 
 
 
 
 
 

so we fast . . .
that what we give ourselves
we might instead give to others
 
The finger pointing,
the speaking of evil – hate speech -- vitriol
 
 
quality of the life of this community
 
 

 
our fasting, our practices this Lent
are meant to make us transparent
to this light,
the light that is Christ,
 
how our practices bring light to the darkness
that pervades the world
 
fast . . . so that what we give ourselves
we might instead give to others
 
The finger pointing,
the speaking of evil – hate speech -- vitriol
 
 
quality of the life of this community
 
 
 
Not to make God like us better
or approve more of us
Not to make others admire us
 
Not about visible piety
but acceptance of who we really are
 
and willingness to let go of false imaginings
to become who God is calling us to be
 
to grow more deeply
in our relationship with God
by loving more deeply the world God loves
 
GOSPEL
Not to be seen by others
To remember what is our true treasure
 
the presence of God in Christ
in our lives,
Christ’s giving of himself to us
Christ inviting us into his life
of self-offering, self-sacrifice for the world
Christ loving us
that we might love on his behalf
 
brave thing we do
saying the words
and accepting these ashes
 
not a pro forma thing
but expresses
 
an acceptance
an intentionality
a desire
a surrender
 
This is the night we sing at the Easter Vigil,
when Christ breaks the chains of sin and death
 
Why am I talking about the Easter Vigil today / tonight, Ash Wednesday night
Because this is the day / night
This is the day / night that begins our journey to Easter
 
This is the day we need to prepare us for this journey
 
We need to hit bottom
to acknowledge two things we spend the rest of the year trying to avoid ? squirm out of
 
Sin and Death
 
Communal –
 
some of your palms may have ended up as the ashes on my forehead
 
We come forward together to get ashes – don’t hide at home and put on alone
We come forward with the whole church across the world
 
Acknowledging our participation together in systemic communal sins that are bigger than we are as well as our large and small personal sins of negligence, complacency, arrogance, judgmentalism
 
Acknowledging that we sin
 
 
Acknowledging that we will die, and that what we do here now matters for good or for ill – not as to whether we “get into heaven” – but as to
 
 
Courageous thing we do
 
we who reticent publicly about our emotions
 
 
and who find it much easier to recognize others’ sins than our own
 
 
Prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast,
that fervent in prayer and in works of mercy,
and