As Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, we gathered tonight at St. George’s church for our Ash Wednesday service. Below are words that Claire shared with us from our lectionary readings today – Joel 2:1-2,12-17 and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
Today we begin the Season of Lent. The word ʺLentʺ comes from an old English word ‘lencten’, of Germanic origin, which means ‘long’, perhaps with reference to the lengthening of the day in spring and the new life it ushers in. It is a period of forty days, reminding us of the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in preparation for His public ministry.
The emphasis of this season is on repentance, sacrifice and faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.
The ashes we are crossed with come from the palm branches blessed on Palm Sunday from last year. Their imposition on our foreheads reminds us, first, of the ugliness of sin. Secondly, to remind us of our human frailty and the brevity of life: “ashes to ashes dust to dust” And finally, to express our sincere sorrow for our sins and our desire to follow Jesus more closely and faithfully: In short, as a famous quotation says, “We don’t wear ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge that we are sinners who are in need of repentance and renewal.”
In our passage from Joel prayer and fasting are seen as a sign of returning to God, an act of worship to a compassionate God, slow to anger, who is longing for the people he chose to be his people once more, living in obedience and relationship with Him.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we see three important practices associated with Lent: prayer, fasting and giving to the needy. In these verses Jesus warns that these must not be done for show and public praise, like the scribes and Pharisees, but with sincere intent and motivated by a love of God and sorrow for sins.
The first practice in these verses we’re going to focus on is prayer. Our constant communication with God. Prayer is essential in our Christian life so that we can grow in our relationship with God. Think of your earthly relationships. The ones that are strong come about through spending time together, talking, getting to know each other. The same is true with us and God. Getting to know him, understanding him, listening to his desires for us and his world. But prayer can sometimes become self-motivated and self-centered. Sometimes we view prayer as asking God for help, coming to him with a list of requests.
Prayer is more than us talking to God.
How are we going to grow in our prayer life with God this Lent season and on in to another year – is there anything we can add or explore?
The second practise is fasting. It is a form of sacrifice so that we will learn to control our desires by the practice of self-denial. At the same time, fasting helps us feel the pain and the suffering of the poor and the hungry, making us more compassionate and sensitive to their needs. Fasting, however, is not only abstaining from food, but also from anything that distracts us from keeping our eyes focussed on God.
What things get in the way of us spending time with God? What might we fast from this season to enable more time with Him?
The third practise is giving to those in need, our time and resources. This practise is really about extending a helping hand to anybody in need, especially the poor, the sick, the orphans and the destitute. Making our heart for others match up with Gods love for everyone he has created. Maybe we need to reflect on how we spend our time and money, re-evaluate it and our motives. Not as Matthew says so that others notice, but that our Heavenly Father through our actions knows our love for him.
The season of Lent helps us to refocus on God, returning to him, redeploying our resources, going deeper. Recognising our sin and need for God and being his presence in the world. Being ready for the joyous celebration of Easter when we remember all that God has done for us through Jesus.
During the season of Lent, we are given the opportunity to pause for a while, to slow down with our worldly activities and concerns. No matter how busy we are, we must never lose sight of our relationship with God and our true home with God for all eternity. So how might we individually this season of Lent grow our prayer life, fast in order to have time to refocus on God and give of our love time and resources in a way that reflect Gods heart for others and his concern for the whole world.