I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray. Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see – how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.
Psalm 34:1-9, The Message
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’m about to begin a trip. The calendar tells me it is time once again to begin the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from Christmas to Easter. Christmas and Easter are words that always bring a smile to my face as I joyfully anticipate the celebrations with family and friends. Isn’t it true, we love to be Christmas and Easter people. But this year, on Wednesday, February 10, we become Lenten people, as we turn our hearts and minds to the cross. During this journey, we’ll hear words like ashes, mortality, sin, and repentance. The music is somber. The mood is pensive. We are aware of our brokenness. This is Lent. Some folks say this is a very morose season of the year. I’ve even heard it described as a strange, bleak, irrational church season. And we might all agree. I must confess that through the years I have often not anticipated Lent with great joy, yet I realize Easter has meaning because of Lent, because we need a savior. And so it begins on Ash Wednesday.
I’m grateful Ash Wednesday is an annual church worship experience. As I prepared to invite you to share this Lenten season with me, I realized this is the 40th year I will provide pastoral leadership at an Ash Wednesday service. (I should let you know one of my pastoral colleagues commented I must need lots of practice.) You may be wondering, why ashes? Ashes are a symbol of our humanness, mortality, weakness, and fallenness. I know the words that we are going to hear on Ash Wednesday are tough words. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). It’s good news/bad news. These are words that God delivered to Adam because of Adam’s sinfulness. Adam once enjoyed the reality of life forever in God’s perfect creation. But because of his sinfulness, his body would die. In time, he would return to the dust from which he was made. That was bad news for Adam. And for us. For we, too, will return to dust.
I need, we need, to have this time to acknowledge our own sinfulness and need for a savior, Jesus. Friends, I don’t believe we can honestly and completely repent and receive forgiveness, acknowledging our dependence on Jesus, until we know the hope that lies with the ashes. As a pastor, it’s hard to impose ashes on parishioners’ foreheads. It’s difficult to say to people you love: “Remember you are but dust.” After all, I know you. When I trace the cross with ashes on your face, I know that you are so much more than ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But I also know the black sooty cross that we wear on Ash Wednesday is ultimately a sign of love and hope. It reminds us that God has entered into our human condition in order to break the power of sin and welcome us into the fullness of his life. That’s why I’m sharing Psalm 34:1-9. It is a Scripture of life. It is one of love and hope and life beyond what we can even begin to imagine. Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Christianity itself are about following Jesus on the path that leads from death to resurrection. They are about dying and rising with Christ. We are to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection. This is what the journey of Lent is about, dying to an old way of seeing and living and being born into a new way of life and the life to come.
Here is my Lenten Challenge to each of us throughout this Lenten Season 2016: Look to the Cross. Why? So that our eyes will see what the Lord is doing, in us, around us, through us. I am inviting you to join me in praying Psalm 34:1-9 every single day now through Easter Saturday. Make it part of your morning routine as a way to set your Jesus antenna for the day. Each evening, reflect on how God’s promises were fulfilled; the ways you saw the Lord’s joy, peace, comfort, safety, and hope fill the moments of your day. It’s a scripture of praising, seeking, and trusting the Lord, a way of discovering the breadth and depth of the heart of God for you. Personally for you.
Find ways to “reconnect” with God during Lent: begin your day praising God, make Sunday worship a priority, participate in Becoming: Immerse Weekend and you will see that the Lord is good, even as you seek to become in your heart, words, thoughts and actions the person God created you to be. Then, as you hear the triumphant words on Easter morning, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” you will know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Christ is risen for you. Christ is risen for me. Christ is risen for us. Christ is risen indeed!
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son. So whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That is the good news of the Gospel. “In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.” Such comforting, tender, loving words. “Taste and See the Lord is good,” the Psalmist tells us. “Repent and believe.” Hope for today, tomorrow, and all the days the Lord grants us, even into eternity!
I look forward to sharing this Lenten journey with you,