Homily Ash Wednesday 16 Feb 2021
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. Ps 51:1-17. 2 Cor 5:20b-6:10. Matt 6:1-6 (7-15) 16-20
Lent begins with us acknowledging our humanity and it seems that the rise in cases of COVID-19 in Melbourne may have a similar affect upon us, that our lives are precarious at best. I would like to share with you this Ash Wednesday an excerpt from the introduction of our chosen Lenten Study book, Let me Go There: the Spirit of Lent by Paula Gooder. As I began to read Paula’s words, it resonated deeply with me and felt it more than appropriate to share them with you today.
Paula’s book centres on two general themes, the first is wilderness and the second is discipleship. She begins her book by sharing her experience of the Wilderness near the Dead Sea in the Holy Land. Paula describes her experience as ‘alien and familiar; forbidding and inviting; lifeless and life-giving. My own experience of standing in the wilderness, was similar. Standing on a high point, down below in the valley, monks had built their home into the valley wall, secluded, hidden away, in a place where little grows. A place as Paula states is full of ‘ambiguity’.
Lent is a time of ambiguity, we are invited to step into the wilderness which challenges us to be courageous and face the vulnerabilities we might naturally shy away from. Lent ‘summons us to learn lessons about ourselves: who we are and who God calls us to be. It suggests that while what we fear most might sometimes bring exactly what we expect and at other times it can bring salvation and hope. There is no easy way through the wilderness, no shortcut route to take’. But God is with us in the wilderness experiences of our lives.
One of the lessons of Covid-19 is the rude awakening that the very fabric of our humanity can be undone by a microscopic virus. The world and here close to home has become a place of risk and danger. We live in a world as Paula describes that ‘encourages us to be “safe”, to take no risks, to avoid danger whenever and however we can’. Risk is a normal part of our lives, children grow up challenging themselves to take reasonable risks and sometimes risks are necessary. Right now, safety seems more vital route to take. And there are times in our lives that safety is the best road to take, times of illness, sickness, disease, times of sorrow, depression or stress. These are the times that may well be in a wilderness not of our own choosing. They are not the times to ‘venture out’, rather ‘these are the times of waiting for healing and hope’.
Lent is a time we choose to ‘lay down some things or to take up others’ and in doing so, Paula states, we make our lives unfamiliar, even if only in a small way. Whether we choose to give up something familiar like chocolate or alcohol, or choose to challenge ourselves with a less than familiar response, the result is similar. We ‘discomfort ourselves by choosing to do something we might otherwise not do and in so doing open the expanses of our lives in a different way’. This year, I am placing images of the Station of the Cross from ‘A Sanctified Art’ as I did last year on the front Windows of the church. I will also be sharing with you a list of some different ways to consider what you will ‘fast’ this Lenten season. It may be for example choosing to read the scriptures of the day before coming to church or adopting a new spiritual practice. Instead of turning on to binge watch something on TV, it may be reading through the Gospel of Mark. These are just a few of the ideas I will provide you with.
Paula Gooder asks the question, ‘What kind of Wilderness? During Lent, and indeed during Covid-19 restrictions, what kind of wilderness will we encounter this year? Naturally many of us will not be spending time in an actual wilderness or desert. Lent presents the ‘challenge of our willingness to enter an emotional or spiritual wilderness. Covid-19 has created a situation for many of us that has demanded that we ‘leave behind our known landscape; those patterns of behaviour and response that mark our lives as we know them. Lent ‘dares us to lift our eyes beyond’ what we are experiencing right now, and to experience the God who awaits us in the midst of the wilderness. To see ourselves, God and the world in a new way.
Today, as we bring our lives to God afresh, bring our very humanity to the One who loves us deeply, laying down those things in our lives that burden us, and allowing God to renew and refresh us again. I encourage you to take the time to choose to lay down or to take up something during lent that will bring you closer to God. In the midst of a world that needs healing, we bring our lives, each one of us, to God.