Ashes and Renewal

Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season of repentance, reflection and renewal. It is a time of repentance – turning toward God and away from that which leaves us empty, depleted and desolate. It is a time of reflection – taking stock and meditating on where God is at work in the world. It is a time of renewal – of allowing God’s spirit to breathe new life into us and opening ourselves to the divine life-giving Spirit. I usually experience Lent as an individual, reflecting on my own journey and focusing on personal renewal. This year, however, I’m embracing the communal invitation to repentance, reflection and renewal. What does repentance look like on a national level? How is enduring a global pandemic giving the world the chance for reflection? What does our congregation need for renewal? I invite you to read the following texts and meditate in the weeks ahead on ways in which we can benefit as a congregation, and as a country, on repentance, reflection and renewal. 

Joel 2:12-15

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord, your God?

How have our hearts been rent open in the past year? How are we being called back to God’s grace and mercy?

National Youth Poet Amanda Gorman offers this invitation to our unfinished nation:

“And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide, because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek to harm none and harmony for all.”

How can we lay down arms in such a way that we can open our arms to others? How can harmony that harms none become a reality?

Isaiah 58:6-12

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator[a] shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

What might it mean for us as a nation to fast from injustice?

Beginners by Denise Levertov

“From too much love of living, Hope and desire set free, Even the weariest river Winds somewhere to the sea–“

But we have only begun To love the earth. We have only begun To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope? — so much is in bud. How can desire fail?

— we have only begun to imagine justice and mercy, only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.

Surely our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of nonbeing? Surely it cannot drag, in the silt, all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet– there is too much broken that must be mended, too much hurt we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture, so much is in bud.

How can we benefit from seeing the potential all around us, nurturing the places of life and light and love?

This Lenten season, may we walk the journey of repentance, reflection and renewal together. Amen.