Ash Wednesday 2019
Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103: 8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-20
“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor. 6:2b
Here we are again, starting our yearly journey to Jerusalem. The pancakes of last night turn into the fasting and ashes of today and that can only mean one thing; Lent is here.
Of all liturgical seasons Lent is probably the most misunderstood. What started as a time of remembering and renewal became a time of either self-condemnation or false piety, and yet, that is exactly what Lent is supposed to guard us from.
Lent is not about self-flagellation, but self-renewal; not about wearing the mask of being faithful, but going deeper into one’s faith.
Lent is not so much about closing ourselves off from sin as it is about opening ourselves up to God.
Lent is not so much about death, although remembering and reflecting on our mortality is an important part of Lent, as it is about life reconciled with God and our neighbors.
Lent is about making room in our hearts and lives for Christ to live, die and rise again.
If Lent is anything it is the invitation to become more of ourselves; it is the beginning of becoming the creature and creation God has in mind for us.
When I was a little girl I was given a book that I just loved. It was written in 1922 by Margery Williams and it was titled The Velveteen Rabbit. It is about a stuffed rabbit that is given to a little boy for Christmas. This simple toy was looked down upon by the other more expensive and mechanical toys. They considered themselves the real toys.
The rabbit learns from another stuffed animal, a horse, that a toy is only real if its owner truly loves it. One day the boy misplaces his favorite toy and the rabbit is taken off the shelf and given to him as a substitute. The boy takes the rabbit everywhere. The rabbit has never been so happy. The boy takes the stuffed rabbit on adventures both inside and outside of the house. The rabbit gets scruffier and dirtier and his fur has come off from being the boy’s constant companion.
On one of those adventures in the woods behind the boy’s home, the stuffed rabbit meets up with some real rabbits. These rabbits tell the stuffed rabbit that he isn’t a real rabbit at all; he can’t hop or run or jump. Whereas the stuffed rabbit feels bad about not being real, it is OK because his boy loves him and that is all that matters.
One day the little boy gets very, very sick and almost dies. He is sent away to recuperate without his beloved rabbit. His doctor orders that the rabbit be burned as it was considered full of germs and unhealthy. His parents give the boy a new rabbit, a clean, furry, glass eyed rabbit to take his mind off the rabbit that had been his constant companion and friend.
While waiting to be put into the bonfire the stuffed rabbit cries a real tear in sadness for what he has lost. And it is then that the rabbit realizes that he was and is real to the boy because the boy loved him.
I think this story epitomizes the season of Lent. Lent is God’s invitation to us to become real, the real person we were meant to be from the time of creation.
Lent is God saying to us, “Come to me. Let me love you until all your fake fur comes off, until all your sin is gone. Come to me. Let me make you real.”
Lent is the Church giving us an intentional opportunity to do just that, to consider what we have to leave behind in order to be loved into really being ourselves. When we allow that to happen we become reconciled to God and that is the first step to being reconciled with our neighbor.
My wish for you this holy season is that you will give yourself the time and space to remember who and whose you are, and that you will allow yourself to become real through the love of God.