These 40 Days
Today is Ash Wednesday--the first day of the season of Lent. If you are unfamiliar with what Lent is all about, and want a proper definition, here it is:
Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.
At my church later on this evening, we'll have a special worship service where those who desire can receive what we call the "imposition of ashes." I'll take my finger, dip it into a mixture of ash and oil and make the sign of the cross on their forehead.
And I'll say something like, "Child of God, Remember you are dust and to dust you will return."
The basic idea is that on Ash Wednesday Christians openly acknowledge their frailty and mortality, and essentially "die" to themselves. Some of us may decide to "give up" something for Lent. I have friends who are giving up meat, Facebook, carbs and even coffee.
I have a checkered past with that kind of thing, to be honest. Once, I tried to give up coffee for Lent. It lasted one day. Don't judge me.
I think if you plan on giving something up for Lent, you should make it a big thing. In his Ash Wednesday address last year, Pope Francis urged Christians to give up indifference. He wrote that when we fast from indifference "we can begin to feast on love." Pope Francis went on to say, "In fact, Lent is the perfect time to learn how to love again."
Walter Brueggemann sees Lent as a time to acknowledge the "hard demand" of God for us to take our relationship with God seriously. "The imperative," he writes "is around four verbs, "seek, call, forsake, return..."
However you choose to keep this Lenten season, I would encourage you to keep those four verbs in mind--whether you are giving up something or adding something to your life. Seek God during this blessed season. Call upon God in your brokenness. Forsake all things that keep you from being connected to God. Return to God with your whole heart.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.