Select Page

“Ash to ash. Dust to dust.”[1] Familiar sayings during this time of year as we enter Lent, the 40-day season (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and the day before Easter. The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten”, which means “lengthen” and refers to the lengthening days of “spring.”[2] Lent first began as a time of preparation for baptism by new converts and then became a time for penance. It was a time when those who had been separated from the Church were reconciled to the fellowship of the Church by penitence and forgiveness.[3]

Although traditions vary, Lent is often a time of reflection on our mortality. An intentional acknowledgement in the separation of God and humanity, marked to us by death and mortal-ness[4]. Through this intentional time of reflection, Lent can also provide a space for us to sacrifice something in order to gain greater intimacy with God. Types of sacrifice most traditionally noted are fasting and praying. You might even have given up sweets, meat, or some other food as a kid. Transformed by pop culture, a Lent sacrifice might mean giving up swearing, TV, or some other activity that gets in the way of communion with God or God’s character.

But this year, as we approach Lent, all I can think is — haven’t we sat in the weight of our mortality enough? I mean, I don’t know about you, but for the past 330 or so days, the knowledge of mortality has been an alarm clock blaring all around. At the time of writing this, there have been over 484,000 US deaths and 2.4 Million deaths world-wide from COVID-19[5]. This pandemic has been a constant reminder of our collective mortality, of death, and of the weight of humanness. How am I, or are we, supposed to set aside more intentional time to think about this? It has me thinking that I would just prefer to skip right to waking up on Easter Sunday when I can celebrate hope.

A friend of mine stated a similar sentiment when I asked her about her Lenten intentions. She said, “I have sacrificed enough already. I don’t think I can give up these small comforts that are keeping me afloat amid quarantine.” She’s got a point and I am sure she’s not alone. How do we draw any closer to sacrifice and feel the weight of mortality any more than we have in the past year?

A few years ago, I heard a sermon about Lent where the pastor mentioned that Lent is like spring cleaning for the soul. The pastor then mentioned that Lent is a time that we prepare our hearts and minds, similar to any physical preparation we might do for a major holiday or event, for Holy Week where we can fully experience Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Thankfully not all of the preparation is centered around sacrifice. If the sentiment behind Lent is to prepare our hearts and minds for Holy week. To sit in the knowledge that we are separate from God because of sin and acknowledge and repent from the things that separate us. That means that we can also cultivate things that emulate God in all God’s triune character. This suggests that spring cleaning for the soul can be centered on bringing in new things or repurposing old things.

Maybe you can add a spiritual practice like silence, contemplative prayer, scripture reading, walking meditations? Maybe your Lenten practice will be about cultivating creativity, reading a theologically engaging book, or taking time to daily inventory the goodness around you? Maybe your Lent intention is about turning your email notifications off? Or bringing forward the metaphorical boxes you’ve been storing in your mind that you’ve found have manifested in impatience, fear, anxiety, or isolation? And it might be that this season is the time to work on receiving, accepting, and giving forgiveness.

During this season of Lent, it will be challenging to look directly at the darkness around us — it is already so overwhelming! It will be challenging to find ways to connect with the Divine and prepare our hearts and minds for the fullness of God’s work on earth through Jesus. But I encourage you to bring your messiness, your tiredness, and your anger into this season. Bring your whole humanness and sit, ashes adorned on this Wednesday, with the full knowledge that indeed you are but ash — and yet, that isn’t all you are.

There is still the desert, the temptation, the rejection, and the denials before the cross and resurrection. It will be hard and dark. But thankfully, by the grace of God, it is not the end of the story. Although I am not sure what we will glean from this Lenten season, I believe that it is through sitting with the weight of death, that we can more fully experience the weight of glory.

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.[6]

________________________________

[1] Episcopal Church. The Book Of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. New York :Seabury Press, 1979.

[2] “INTRODUCTION TO THE SEASON OF LENT.” Discipleship Ministries, www.umcdiscipleship.org/book-of-worship/introduction-to-the-season-of-lent.

[3] Episcopal Church. The Book Of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. New York :Seabury Press, 1979.

[4] Genesis 3 (notably, Genesis 3:19).

[5] The New York Times. “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html.

[6] Episcopal Church. The Book Of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church : Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church. New York :Seabury Press, 1979.