“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”(Book of Common Prayer, 265)
Growing up, when I would attend Ash Wednesday service, I was always captivated when the priest would stand in front of us and bid us “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.” My mind would pause to contemplate: an invitation to a holy Lent? What is a “holy Lent”? What should I give up or take on these 40 days? Is Lent all about what act of sacrifice I am doing or is there something more? What will the next 40 days bring?
Listening deeper, the priest would continue “the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance.” And, new every time, it would hit me: Lent is a time to slow down and focus. These words welcomed and exhorted us into a time of looking deeply. A time of looking at our relationship with God and cultivating relationships with one another. A time of retracing the steps and walking in the footsteps of Jesus of when he was in the wilderness for 40 days. And even more closely, in following Him in the journey to the Cross.
How deeply countercultural to stop, pause, reflect, and open our eyes to the world around us. Too often in a world with fast paced activities and thinking, with information flashing across screens and easily accessible at our fingertips; stopping, pausing, reflecting, looking are revolutionary. The practices I adopt or give up take on new meaning in helping me walk nearer with Him. To see the places in my life where I need to hear Jesus anew, where I need to turn around and draw closer to Him. Where I see and feel God’s love and presence. And then, in walking closer with God, I am changed.
I am changed. I am changed by love and I grow. I grow in being attentive to God working in the world around me and through me. I grow in walking in step with God in developing healthier habits. I grow in my relationship with God and with others around me. I grow as a disciple, learning at the feet of Jesus. I grow in then being sent out to share His love with others.
This Ash Wednesday, when we all hear again the words, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent,” my prayer for all of us is that we may pause. May this be a time of deepening relationship as we journey with Christ. May we see how His love for us rescues and cares for us. May we learn to walk with Him – following His footsteps and voice. May we “be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” Amen.