Ash Wednesday Sermon

Storm Clouds by Arthur Dove - Source

Sermon outline from last night. 

Today is Ash Wednesday. On this sacred day, we have the opportunity to come together in community and GET REAL. Really real. I find this day to be one of the most real, vulnerable, transparent days of the church year.

Today – we get real about our lives. We get real about our brokenness and shortcomings. We even admit our inevitable deaths. We also get real about our potential and our worth.

During today’s liturgy,
We confess.
We are marked with a cross.
We eat together at the Lord’s table.

One of the gifts of our tradition is that there is a liturgy…an order that we can follow. An order that has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years to invite us into a deeper experience of community and of the holy. Today’s liturgy does that in a really powerful way. My friend Maggie was a pastor. She died unexpectedly a few months ago. She said that the liturgy speaks for us when we don’t have words…and I’ve come to really love that about the order of our worship - the way it makes space for us to connect to God, to one another, and to all the saints who have traveled this road before us.

On Ash Wednesday, we don’t need to come up with a lot of our own words. The prayers we will speak…and the motions we will move through…it’s all part of this day and it has been for a long time.

All of it has been used by people for hundreds of years in the meaning-making process. There’s a holy comfort in that. Honoring Ash Wednesday first began around the year about 900 years ago in 1100 AD.

The words we will hear as the ashes are placed on our head are old words; old, wise words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They come from the 3rd chapter of Genesis. God is speaking to Adam and Eve at the time.

Those words are a timeless reminder of the inevitability of death. Today, we get to admit it together. It’s not gruesome or strange. It’s beautiful and brave.

As author Christine Vaulters Painter reflected earlier this week, “In remembering that we will die, we are called to remember God who is the source of our life.”

The ashes, too, connect us back through history…back through the struggle and joys of what it means to be human: The practice of incorporating ashes comes from the Old Testament books of Job and Daniel where the use of ashes represents sorrow, grief, and repentance.

Through this doorway of Ash Wednesday, we enter the season of Lent. 40 days (plus Sundays) of time in which we make intentional space for God.

Let me say clearly: there are no rules for what Lent has to look like or feel like. For some, it looks like fasting or giving something up. For others, they add a new spiritual practice like prayer, meditation, or journaling.

The idea is to make space. To listen. To talk to God. To connect with the divine. As a family of faith, your Lenten journey takes on special significance this year. Together, you are collectively discerning what it means to be a congregation at this unique and important juncture in your journey.

You are discerning who you are and who you want to be. You are seeking the Spirit’s guidance. Go deep during this time. Be brave. Open your hearts. Get real with yourselves about what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Where you’ve triumphed and where you’ve messed up. Where you've been generous and where your ego has gotten into the way.

We bring it all to the alter today…and then Jesus invites us to the table. JUST AS WE ARE. Fully loved. Fully valued.

Today is the transition into Lent which is a season of Repentance: The Greek word for repent is metanoia which means ‘to reconsider’ – and ‘to turn around.’

We pray during this season that the Spirit of God works within us all to empower us to turn around and reconsider in whatever ways are most healing and peace-building. These 40 days are a gift. An opportunity for holy transformation. To connect to our creator and also to recognize our own potential to bring light and grace into the world.

With that, I’ll close with a blessing from Jan Richardson…it highlights the glorious mystery of what God does with dust. (Here's the link to "Blessing the Dust".)