Ash Wednesday • February 26, 2020
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In Baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are born children of a fallen humanity; through water and the Holy Spirit, we are reborn children of God and made members of the church, the Body of Christ. Living with Christ, and in the communion of the saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God.
Those words are offered at the beginning of every celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We come to or are carried, to a baptismal font, or similar place of water. Words of promise are offered between families, individuals, a gathered faith community and God. Water flows freely and the breath of the Holy Spirit is felt as we hear “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And in our Lutheran Christian faith tradition, our foreheads are marked with the cross of Christ as the words “Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever” are spoken.
Not just on the good days of our life. Not just on the days that we have everything figured out. Not just on the days when we actually take 30 seconds to pay attention to God’s presence in our life. Not just in the darkest, most difficult days of our life.
In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, God claims us as God’s own child…forever.
Hopefully, by now, you know that today is Ash Wednesday. This day is one of the holiest and most important days of the year for those who claim to be followers of Jesus. It marks the beginning of a 40-day journey known as Lent which ultimately leads us into Holy Week and Christ’s betrayal, crucifixion, and death. And in the end, Lent concludes as we once again experience great worship celebrations of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
So today, on this Ash Wednesday, you and I join hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world and begin one of the most sacred journeys our Christian faith knows.
May we not enter into this journey lightly.
And may the mark of the cross upon our foreheads, given to us as a gift in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, guide us along the way. Along the way, even as a cross of ash is placed on our foreheads today.
Each year in Lent, we are invited into more intentional and frequent times of worship as a faith community. Yes…we will continue to gather for weekly worship on Saturdays and Sundays. However, in addition to those times of worship, we are also invited into special times of worship that only happen during Lent. At Good Shepherd, Wednesday is the day we gather. Lent can be an intentional part of our faith journey. Let’s be honest, in order to fully live into the season of Lent, it requires us to be intentional about it. And to be intentional with our Lenten journey, God actually asks for more of our time to be dedicated to prayer and worship.
Our Lenten journey on Wednesdays this year will be wrapped around the theme “Our Journey to the Promised Land.” The core story of the Bible is the Exodus story. It’s a story of God’s people on a journey. It’s a story that has been, and continues to be, repeated as God’s children, people just like you and me, continue to walk through our life along this journey called faith.
Over the next six weeks, you and I will journey together through the Exodus story. It will help us see and hopefully discover in new ways, how this ancient story in an ancient collection of books called the Bible, still speaks to our own faith journey today.
A faith journey with times when we feel stuck and struggle to get anything accomplished. As we will discover, Moses and the Israelite people of the Exodus story experienced the same thing along the way.
At other times we are simply confused, not sure what is happening or why it’s happening or what any of it means for our journey. Moses and the Israelite people of the Exodus story had the same experiences along the way.
At times we long for things to be the way things used to be. The good old days as some of us like to call them. We long for things to be the way they used to be, when our journey made more sense and was far less chaotic and confusing. Moses and the Israelite people of the Exodus story, even without social media and the internet, experienced this same longing along their way too.
And still, at other times in our journey, we celebrate the possibilities and opportunities God is placing before us. Our journey into the future looks bright and we are excited to get things started. Moses and the Israelite people also experienced times of great potential as their journey ultimately led them to the Promised Land.
Our own journey to the Promised Land is our focus this year in Lent as a faith community. I believe it will be a blessing – in large part because we get to take this journey together through these additional and intentional times of worship every Wednesday during this holy season. It’s a journey that may only last for six weeks during a season we called Lent, but as we know from the promises God made to us in our baptism, this journey is far longer than six weeks. It’s forever.
As we come forward to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion on this Ash Wednesday our foreheads will be marked with the cross of Christ. Instead of water and oil as was used in our baptism, today our foreheads will be marked with black ash. And instead of hearing the words, “Child of God, you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit”, today we will hear the words, “Child of God, remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the materials used and the words shared may sound and feel differently, but they actually aren’t all that different. And both of them remind us that we are God’s children…not just on the day of our baptism, not just on a holy day called Ash Wednesday during a crazy church season called Lent…but forever.
Blessings to you in your Lenten journey this year. And may God continue to richly bless your journey in faith. A journey that has no end. Thanks be to God. Amen.