We are all beloved children of God, but we must “participate in our own redemption.” Today, at the beginning of Lent, our liturgy invites us to enter the darkness of our sin, to recognize it for what it is and face the pain it has caused ourselves and others. We may find consolation in the thought that our sins are perhaps less extreme than other people’s but so, of course, did those preparing to stone the woman caught in adultery. It’s not our business to feel holier than others and to cast stones at others, but to know that our nature is flawed and reflect on our own shortcomings.
Isaiah warns us not to pay mere lip-service to our liturgy this morning, for receiving ashes on our faces will do us no good at all if our hearts are hardened towards the needs of those around us. We are entering what our liturgy calls a “desert of repentance,” forty days of reflecting on how we might be God’s people once again. This, we’re told, is a journey of discovery, “a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline” through which we hope to reconnect with the God we have offended by our sinfulness and our disregard for the welfare of others.
The promises of renewal are there in our reading from Isaiah: the promise of light breaking into our darkness like the dawn, of healing springing up quickly, of the glory of God shielding and protecting us. In this place of contrition, our prayers will be answered, for God never disregards a cry from a broken and a contrite heart. We wait sorrowfully and yet expectantly, and it’s best if we don’t anticipate anything precise, for when the light comes it will certainly arise in unexpected places.
Do read the whole sermon, which is available at this link, if only to read the first illustration! Sheila ended quoting and commenting on sections of Louis Untermeyer’s poem, Ash Wednesday, which you can read in full on-line at this link.
Our picture is the one taken by our friend Liz Crumlish to accompany the Ash Wednesday 2023 thought on her blog, and can be seen in context at this link.