[#pictureLent] Ash Wednesday: A Disruptive Lent

by Rev. Magrey DeVega
St. Paul's UMC, Cherokee, IA

First, read Genesis 3:19

It certainly feels just like yesterday that we celebrated the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It seems that we have barely taken down our Christmas decorations and sent our thank you notes, and now Lent has begun.

If it’s true that we should enjoy our children now while they are young, because they grow up so fast, they should observe the church’s liturgical calendar. Because here, no kid grows up faster than Jesus. In the 56 days since Christmas Day, Jesus has aged 36 years!

But notice the differences between Christmas and Lent:

Christmas Day is predictable. It is always on December 25. It is easy to order our lives and activities around it. It's never in November, never creeps into January. School semesters always break in time for it, and retail establishments plan their revenue expectations around it. There is something constant, and comforting, about this fixed holiday.

But Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent move around. Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter Sunday, which is celebrated – are you ready for this – on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox on 21st March. This means that Ash Wednesday can occur as early as the first week in February or as late as the second week in March. That’s a variation of nearly 35 days!

What that means is that Lent often sneaks up on us. It catches us off guard. It can disrupt our planning. Sometimes the school spring breaks are during Holy Week, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the stores have time between their Valentine’s Day hearts and their Cadbury Easter eggs, and sometimes they don’t.

Whereas Christmas is comforting in its constancy, Lent can be devious in its elusiveness.

Perhaps it is best that it be this way. For the call to celebrate the life and light of Advent, and the call to reflect in the humility and penance of Lent, are two very different ways of identifying with Christ.

  • We know with precision the exact date, and even the time of our own births. But we cannot know with the same certainty the moment of our deaths.

  • We can know with certainty the constant faithfulness and love God has given to us through Christ. But we are equally blind to the sin that festers and blooms within the subsoil of our existence.

  • We can know with absolute conviction what God has done for us through Christ. But we can be much more reluctant in determining what we can do for God in the name of Christ.  

For the secularized Christian, celebration is a given, but discipline is elusive. For those whom John Wesley would call “Almost Christians” the life of simple good deeds and a life of sincere faith and a right heart are worlds apart.

Regardless of how subtly this Lenten season has snuck up on us, we are all here together, to take this 40 day journey that will be, for each of us, an invitation to look deeply within our lives and determine what resides within the shadowy parts of our souls. To identify that within our daily existence that needs to be acknowledged, to be confessed, and then, through the power of the cross, ultimately to be overcome.

To guide you in that exercise today, take a moment to read prayerfully the most famous prayer John Wesley ever wrote, commonly referred to today as the “Wesley Covenant Prayer.” Consider the way it invites you into a place of total surrender and obedience to God, and how you might allow to work through the highs and lows of your life this Lenten season:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

May God bless all of us as together we observe a holy Lent.

Prayer:  O God, you are sovereign over all of life and death, and nothing can separate us from your love. Remind us during these days to observe a holy Lent, remaining steadfast in our acknowledgment of sins, steadfast in our obedience to your will, and faithful in our hope in the resurrection.  Amen.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Does it still seem like Christmas was only yesterday? What do you need to do to prepare your heart and spirit for the observance of Lent?

  2. When have you ever confronted the reality of your own mortality? What difference does the hope of the resurrection make in acknowledging your mortality? 

  3. How might you apply the Wesley Covenant Prayer today and throughout Lent?