Following is today's Ash Wednesday sermon. May it guide you into a Lenten season of delight! Faithfully yours, Janet+
"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away!": A Sermon for Ash Wednesday – Gospel Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Do you remember your first love?
Do you remember how it felt to notice someone
To notice them more
To hope they noticed you
To contrive to be close to them
To risk trying to speak to that person
The rush of having that person speak to you
In today’s Gospel reading, you just received some invitations from God, the living God who has noticed you and put some invitations out to you in order to woo you closer. An invitation to go into your room and shut the door and pray. An invitation to put oil on your head and wash our face so that, in fasting, you can make a secret rendezvous. These invitations are given to you by the who calls you in this season of Lent to: “Arise, my fair one, and come away.”
This Lent could be something more than a dour season of duty and drudgery. It could be a season of delight.
Delight? Hey, isn’t all the fun stuff supposed to be reserved for Easter, when the lilies are up and the sun is out and the birds are singing?
No. Actually, no.
Delight begins now. The purpose of this season of dimness and quiet is to come away with the God who beckons us to himself. Because He loves us. And longs to be with us. And longs for us to long to be with him.
God – loves – YOU. He notices you every day. Every moment of every day. He hopes you’ll notice him back.
Yet, even as God contrives to be close you to – in the beauty he surrounds you with, in the truth he stirs you to know in your heart – things get in the way. Every romantic movie plays on this theme of things that get in the way of love. Whether the movie ends up being a comedy or a tragedy depends on what happens with the lovers. In the end, in spite of all odds, do the lovers find each other and stay together, like in the movie “When Harry Met Sally?” Or do they permanently, tragically miss each other, like in “Romeo and Juliet.”
What if today, Ash Wednesday, we accept the mark on our forehead as a mark of belonging, belonging to a God who loves us passionately and without end. What if the season of Lent is a time of falling in love with God – for the first time, or again?
In the last years or decades of your relationship with God, there was probably a point at which you were in love with God. Or at least there was a time when God came to your rescue and you wanted to repay him by drawing closer to him. Whether you haven’t felt close to God in a while, or whether you feel held close in His loving arms each day, this season of Lent is a time filled with opportunities to notice the God who is always noticing you, and to spend time with Him.
The fact that you’ve shown up today is a sign that you’re interested in your relationship with God. You’ve likely come because you sense that this is a place, a time where you can draw closer. What will you do beyond this day? In this season of Lent, will you risk praying and giving and fasting – and finding out some things about God that might encourage you . . . as well as some things that you might not have wanted to know, things that challenge you? God’s invitation to prayer and giving and fasting is an invitation to do just that: as you pray and give and fast, to let your questions and concerns rise to the surface so that your loving God can respond.
Right now, in this time of worship, I offer you three ways to forge a deeper connection with the One who calls to us “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away . . .”
First, there’s a little slip of paper in your bulletin, it invites you to write a question. If there’s something you’ve been wondering about, some worry or doubt or fear that’s been on your mind, I invite you to ask the question. Write it down and give it as an offering to God and put it in the plate when it’s passed during the offering. Put your question out there so it’s not stuck in here, getting in the way of your relationship with God. And perhaps putting it out there will help us, together, find an answer. During the Sundays of Lent, the sermons will be shaped by the questions you ask. Perhaps, in putting your questions out there, you will help us all hear some of God’s thoughts and sense His presence.
Second, in just a moment, you’re going to receive some ashes, a mark of belonging and belovedness, a sign of right relationship with the God who loves you. When you receive the mark, I pray that, as you are reminded that you’re mortal, you will also know that you are returning to dust only so you can be raised with Christ to be with the God who loves you, forever.
Third, after the imposition of ashes, we will say some prayers, prayers of penitence in which we confess some of the things that might be getting in the way of our love relationship with God. As you offer up your repentance, I pray that you will be unburdened and free to enjoy his embrace as he reaches out to you day by day this Lent. As you seek to keep a holy Lent, may you hear Him say to you,
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land . . . Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. . . . Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. It’s flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench [my] love [for you], neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 2:10-12,13b; 8:6-7a)