Lent 2020 – A Prayer

ashwednesdayLord, as your children, we gathered together and received the reminder of being dust and returning to dust. Do you remember the sight of your children with the smudges of ash on their foreheads? Do you recall the fervor that we entered into a season of turning around, being ourselves in your presence, and promising changes in our lives for good? Do you remember, Lord.

We do. We remember. Many of us can still feel the grit on the ash falling upon our eyelashes. We can recall blinking back tears brought by the invasion of a mark from you that we were freely accepting. We can remember looking at one another – side by side – and wondering if the cross we wore was as neat and tidy as the one we saw on our sister or brother. We remember.

But now we are a lifetime away from a night that was only a fortnight ago. And our eyes blink again, and we feel the grit of an invisible invader bearing down upon us. We long to travel together into this unknown time of change and growth, but our love for your commandment to love one another forces us to chose to be on our own. We wish we could covet the sight of a dirty forehead, of a hundred dirty foreheads of your children together with us.

In this season of Lent 2020, our vision is not perfect and our way is completely unknown. Like the children of Abraham, we find ourselves wandering in a wilderness full of the knowledge of your mercy and shuddering with confidence in your wisdom. It is doubtful, Lord, that we will forget these days of being apart. We pray that we will use them to turn both to you and to our neighbor who may need more than we do. You gave us this season, and the world gave us a reason to lean into the faith for which we lowered our foreheads for a map.

This cross we carry in Lent 2020, is one that we know that you have already borne. These steps we take, we know are on a road you have already walked.

Give us the courage to look to the very hills around us for our help. May they remind us that our help comes from the one who made not just the hills, but the earth, the heavens, and all of creation. You, O God, are our help.

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And when we step forth from this journey – crossing whatever river lies ahead us – may we do so with the joy of those who know the presence of Christ’s victory over death. May we step from this journey to celebrate with one another the calling you have placed upon us to be in this time, and every time those who are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. May we bear one another with love and may we see your very face in the ones we seek to love.

We pray this as those whose only hope is your grace, your mercy, and your faithfulness. We pray as your children who walk through Lent to be changed.

Amen.

 

The Morning After Ash Wednesday 2018

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As part of our Ash Wednesday observance last evening, I read the following passage from 2 Corinthians 6. Although I used a different version during the service, The Message  spoke to me on the morning after:

“People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…in hard times, tough times, bad time; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”

When I arrived to prepare for the service, I noticed that our children and youth, who usually meet on Wednesday evening for lessons in discipleship of one type or another, were gathering in the building as well. I then learned that both groups would be attending the Ash Wednesday service. I loved the thought of having their energy, their wide-eyed faith being among us as we observed this holy day. As they gathered, I heard one little girl excitedly tell her friend how “Pastor Scott was going to put a cross on our foreheads tonight.” I chuckled as I listened.

I sat on the front pew at the start of the service and little Owen sat beside me. We had words flashing on the screen to help people “set the tone” for the service. I asked him if he needed help reading any of them. He stumbled on “Scripture” and had no idea what “Fasting” meant, although he did a great job reading it. He got “Deny Yourself” and “Pray” very easily as well as “Kneel Now”. It was a good conversation when a great kid. One of a dozen or so young ones…along with the dozen or so youth.

Lord, did it hit me while I was reading that passage above.

I was so joyful just to be in worship with the younger ones that I hadn’t forgotten briefly about the big news of the day. I forgot that there were parents and children in Florida who were dead or severely traumatized by our lack of ability to balance safety and rights once again. I was struck while reading this passage that our witness in the face of such tragedy is to go on as people of hope, to keep showing the love of God even as we fight the good fight of doing what was right.

I was reading the passage and I knew that in just a few minutes, Owen and many other children and youth I have grown to love even as my own would soon join the line of people that walk up to their pastor and have me mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross as I said, “You are dust and to dust you will return.”

There are times that I wonder about Jesus’ words of taking his “easy yoke” upon ourselves. This didn’t feel easy at all. With every wide eyed child and every interested teen that came to me last night, I choked just a little more. I didn’t cry. I don’t think any tears escaped, but they wanted flow like rivers.

And then this morning, I came across this poem by Mary Oliver (from a book I’m reading for Lent) and I was struck with the enormity of the creation God has made in us:

We Shake with Joy
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.

I leave with you a brief image, in video form, of what God might have seen last night…Faithful children…a pastor shaking with joy and grief…the people “immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy.”

To all God’s children in Florida struggling with the unspeakable…
my heart goes out to you in love…
my mind fills with thoughts of prayer for you…
and my spirit longs for hope for us all.

Ash Wednesday 2018

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Matthew 6:28-34 The Message

I Worried
(by Mary Oliver)

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, with the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

 

Yep. I. Needed. That.

Scott Sears, Ash Wednesday 2018

Ash Thursday

ashwednesdayThe imposition of ashes was yesterday – of course,
I know that much.
The calendar said so…
The liturgy dictated it…
I even carried out – despite a snow shriveled congregation huddled in a sanctuary being renovated – carpets removed, chalk lines on the floor and walls, electric lines dangling like tongues from the wall.

I thought about the dust swirling about us…
Of course, it was carpet fiber…
Of course, it was wood dust and plaster.
But perhaps, just perhaps, among the sixty year old carpet ripped from its resting place
there were the long ago deposited cells of saints now in glory.
It took my breath away, this thought, and tempted me to breathe deeper still.
We talked about that.
Listened to a reading about dust and ashes, ashes and dust.

And thirteen times
I dipped my index finger into the oily black mess
of burnt palm branches and
God only knows what else that settled from our place of worship.
(Yeah, I’m different that way…I use my thumb to push back stray hairs.)
I made the sign of the cross on foreheads.
I said the words, “You are dust, to dust you shall return.”
We prayed.
We sang.
We stared at the different crosses one pastor/artist could create on the canvass of skin.
We laughed and we left.

But today is “Ash Thursday” for me.
I look at that paintbrush which is my index finger
and I see it.
The ashes,
the dust
that has embedded itself deep into the quick of my finger.
Only a painful cut with the nail clippers will erase its presence.

Yet before I pull out the eraser,
I am reminded
that this is the first time,
the only first time,
that my Dad is among those saints remembered as dust, celebrated as ash.

He is embedded deep too.
Not just in the quick of my finger but somewhere quite deeper…
in the ganglia of my nerves…
in the composition of my cells…
in the foggy clarity of my memory…
in the power of my family system.
Cut off from the family – but present still.

I can cut out the ashes on my recognition of Ash Thursday,
almost as easily as I wiped the cross from my increasing forehead.
But some dust, some ash will remain deep.

Maybe that is why we were told not to look for the living among the dead –
We can easily find the dead among the living…
Look in a mirror…
Listen to a laugh…
Talk to a child…

It’s Ash Thursday for me…and I thank God I am happy for that!