joel 2:1-2,12-17; psalm 103:8-14; 2 corinthians 5:20b-6:10; matthew 6:1-6,16-21
The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis
Welcome to you on the beginning of your 40-day journey to the Holy of Holies. You may be short on time, but here you are giving yourselves the gift of time at the noon hour or as evening falls. For today begins forty days of cleansing our hearts, resetting our intensions and turning to new directions that lead us to God.
Like moths to a flame, we hope to be drawn to the light that is the source of all life. These forty days are about letting that light come into focus.
Some of us in Lent will pray more. Others will eat less. Others will set aside wine and strong drink. None of this is to become pure, but rather to more purely experience the connection to God.
I previously told some of you about my clergy friend who had to sit Lent out the year his young adult son died of cancer. This season of penitence and introspection can be the Debbie Downer of the church calendar which makes me want to ask the question anew: What is Lent’s essential purpose? What is to be the focus or intention of these forty days?
If we look to the Bible we can find clues about the nature of the biblical interval of forty days. If we look at Biblical precedents for this length of time, we may find some characteristics the pertain to the purpose of the 40 days of Lent.
Moses was on Mont Sinai for 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18, 34:1-28). This was the first time the glory of God was revealed. There he was to have received God’s law. So, the nature of these forty days for some of us may be about revelation or receiving direct instruction from God about our lives, our work, relationships or our faith.
Also, Moses sent spies to the land of Canaan for 40 days to investigate the land God promised the Israelites as an inheritance. (Numbers 13:25, 14:34) So, the nature of these forty days for others of us may be about investigating what God may have in store for us around the bend.
Jesus of course fasted for forty days in the wilderness and was tempted many times but prevailed. For others still Lent may be about building spiritual fortitude and strength for an endeavor yet unknown.
Whatever these days mean to you, I would invite you to step into them fully and boldly. I would invite you to assume these days as a time of your own preparation for soon enough we will enter together some of the darkest days of the Bible still ahead.
As we open ourselves to revelation, divine instruction, spiritual exploration and personal strengthening I invite us to do so with instruction from Jesus that is refreshed for our culture today. I invite us to do quite the opposite of what is written and what was read, because time and faith are so hard to come by.
Go ahead and practice your piety before others, so that others may know more of who you are.
Give alms in ways that shine a light on the public option to help the stranger.
Pray in public so that the rest of us can be reminded to pray.
Let us know you are fasting, for you may be an inspiration to us all.
Lay out plainly the heavenly treasures that you already have in store on earth, so that we too can know how to collect and display our own set of spiritual gems.
These forty days will be as efficacious as our efforts to be open to God and demonstrably devoted to God. This is what enables us to access and interpret the work that God is constantly doing in and for us but which we often are too busy to tap into. By taking on practices and letting them be known, we will serve to support and inspire one another.
These forty days are given to us. They have been hallowed by God, and we observe them to remind ourselves that all time is hallowed. Participating in worship on Ash Wednesday sets us on the road to Holy Week and Easter. You may find that those ceremonies will mean more to you – have greater impact on you – for having been here today to hear the prayers, receive the imposition of ashes and to set your hearts toward Jerusalem.
In as much as we begin a season of repentance this day, may we also enter a time of revelation, exploration and clarification. Yes, we are but dust. And we are dust that still has its breath and therefore a life forever in need of a God and a guide.