I had the true privilege of preaching for two of my church's Ash Wednesday services yesterday. For anyone interested, here's the text. And thanks to my writer friend, Ellen, who, when I said the sermon must be only eight minutes, replied, "Wow--that's a poem!" This turned out to be a great way to approach the writing.
Is Forty Days Time Enough?
Today, we begin the 40-day march toward resurrection.
Just as we’re tempted to rush through Advent to reach Christmas Day,
we might want to hasten now, through the gray weeks of Lent
to arrive at the great, bright moment we call Easter.
But it is not advisable to hurry when it comes to journeys of the spirit.
Interior progress never happens quickly.
It takes time to learn how to pray,
or to discern with wisdom,
or to unravel our conflicts,
or even to change our minds.
Sometimes, I think it takes a lifetime
to understand why resurrection is even necessary.
Lent is the season for truth-telling.
Isaiah, with devastating accuracy, tells people about their lives.
A prophet knows that no one is healed before there is a diagnosis,
and no justice occurs before judgment shines its light.
Sometimes it takes decades to see ourselves clearly,
to name ourselves as wounded and lost and undone.
We do not like to be needy.
We do not aspire to vulnerability.
Is forty days time enough for us to know our truth and speak it?
We wear these ashes because we recognize our need to repent,
also, the ongoing necessity for divine help.
I am not okay. I hurt. I hurt others.
I participate in systems that oppress entire peoples
and destroy the very earth that supports us.
I hold grudges. I find it hard to trust or to open my heart.
I judge and reject other people; I judge and reject my own life.
I am leveled by dangerous illness; I am assaulted by horrendous loss.
I try and try, but fail at the best results.
I want and want, but am never satisfied.
This is my life; this is our life.
Is forty days time enough to comprehend what it means to be human?
During Lent, many of us will fast
in the hope that the ache for food might awaken our deeper hunger.
When that happens, we may discover that some desires—
the ones at the center of us—are so large and wild
that we fear they are too tall an order, even for God.
But God built us to be hungry,
to move because we are restless,
to reach and grow because we long for something more.
Is forty days time enough to grow brave in our desire?
These ashes also convey, simply this: we will die.
The human body consists of the stuff that stars are made of.
We are the universe in particular form.
We do believe in resurrection, and life eternal,
but a day comes when the breath fails, and the heart stops,
and we proceed to mystery while this body becomes, once again,
a collection of cosmic elements returned to earth, sea, and sky.
Is forty days time enough to build our courage for that day?
Is this season of Lent really adequate for so much to be accomplished in us?
Is it long enough for our slow understanding; is it deep enough for our bottomless want?
The good news is—yes! It is enough.
Otherwise, we must wear ashes every day and always.
But the prophets would not have prophesied our dire state
except that God’s compassion sent them.
The psalmist would not have sung our deliverance
except that grace was already out to find us.
And Jesus would not have embarked upon this journey
except he knew that we would finish it with him.
They all knew that every journey—that is, every transformation
—begins because there is mercy; with the turning of every day, mercy.
And each step and stop and stride and stumble
leads right into the open arms of God.
Today, we begin our march toward resurrection.
Let’s take our time.
Let’s enjoy one another’s company.
And let us tend with patience our fragile and beautiful life.
Because God does love us, and walks with us,
preparing us for everything.