The service was larger then most, 30 – 40 older people gathered in the Community Room of the assisted living where I work. Ash Wednesday, for the west the beginning of Lent.
The homily was quite good, a retired Lutheran pastor spoke of mortality and life as a gift from God. The service was traditional in the 1979 BCP sense of the word. Because I had the best eyes and the chaplain was off duty the reading fell to me.
Near the close of the service ashes were imposed and the people were reminded that they were from dust and to dust they would return. Somber words, and yet words that believers understand in their hopeful fullness. Then there was the sting.
I know the rules. I understand the rules. I support the rules. Yet there was a part of me that envied the ease in which the retired Lutheran pastor moved from person to person imposing ashes and serving the people gathered, because of their physical limitations, in this time and this place. I felt the closeness of a group of people seeking to begin Lent in faith and the distance between us, a distance forged in history and theology, sometimes for good cause and sometimes out of pure politics. Christians and yet apart, “No ashes for me, I’m Orthodox”.
I know the rules. I understand them. I support them. Yet it sometimes still stings to be so close and yet so far, to be in the same room with the centuries between us. Perhaps for the first time, though, I personally understand the words “For the holy Churches of God and the union of them all, let us pray to the Lord”
Lord have mercy.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The weeks that have preceded Forgiveness Sunday are weeks during which, in the form of stories that actually took place or of parables, we are presented with the basic sins, the basic brokenness of ours.
This was the time when we should have examined ourselves deeply, deeply; stood before God, at times with horror at what we have accepted to be, at times with pain at what has become of us in the consequence of the life which was ours.
And now we have come to a point which is called Lent. Lent is an Old English word derived from the German that means spring, the beginning of life. Lent is no longer the time allotted to us for repentance. It is the time which, having repented week after week, we should be able together to move along a path that will lead us, through the examples of saints, first to Calvary with Christ and see there what the consequences are of our own sinfulness; because as we read in the life of one saint, in response to a priest who was begging Christ to punish the evil-doers, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘Never ask Me for that. If there was only one sinner in the world I would become man again, and again die upon the cross for him or her to be saved.’
When we will stand together at the foot of the cross on Great Thursday night or by the tomb of Christ on Great Friday, we must realize that this has happened because of each of us — not for the totality of mankind taken wholesale, but because of each of us. Christ died for each of us. And we must at that moment bring to Him ourselves in such a way as to show Him that for us, His death upon the cross was not in vain. And then move towards the Resurrection to rise with Him, to rise in exultation, to rise in gratitude, but to rise also renewed, a new creature — not perfect yet, because we have years during which we will have to follow the same path step by step, again and again, until we reach our full maturity and can enter into God’s Kingdom.
Today we will ask forgiveness from one another. This is totally unrealistic if we imagine that we can approach each of those who have hurt us, wounded us, at times destroyed our lives, and say, ‘Let us agree that the horror that you have brought into my life does not exist. I forgive you. Go in peace.’
We are not mature enough for this. The martyrs were capable of this; we are not. But a thing which we can do, which each of us can do, is to say, ‘Because you are so loved of God, so loved by Christ, that He became man, lived, taught and died for you, and not only for me, I accept you as you are. Indeed, I would be so happy if you were different, if you were not a cross on my shoulders, a wound in my heart, a terror in my life, a humiliation. But there is still time ahead of us, and for the moment I accept you as you are and I shall carry you, this acceptance, on my shoulders. As St Paul says, ‘Carry one another’s burdens, because it is the way in which you will have fulfilled the law of Christ.’
And carrying the burden upon our shoulders means primarily to accept my neighbour as he is, hoping that things will change, praying for him or for her that the grace of God should transform, transfigure this person — but also me, because what judge am I of another’s sins while I am a sinner, while I am a temptation, a wound in the life of so many others?
So let us make this attempt. When we come to one another and say, ‘Forgive me’ it will not mean, if you answer ‘Yes I do’ that nothing that was wrong between us is annihilated, exists no more. But it means ‘I accept you as you are, sinful, a wound in my flesh, a wound in my heart, a problem in my life — but I accept you and I will carry this acceptance, and you, throughout life, and pray for God’s blessing to be on you and pray for God to heal both of us, that I should become such that I do not lead you into temptation, be the cause of your own fall.
Let us therefore pray together during this service, bring to God true repentance of what we are and what we have been, but also bring one another to God. Moving towards Calvary, moving towards the resurrection has been compared by one of the ancient writers to travellers who board the same ship. They will never arrive safe if there are quarrels between them, if they are not at one. Let us be at one, with Christ who is at the rudder, with Christ who has given His life for each of us, however difficult we are for one another. And when we say, ‘Yes, I forgive,’ it means, ‘I accept you as you are with whatever consequences to me. I accept you, and give my life as an offering for yours.’ Amen.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
when on watching the news a part of me wants to jump out of my skin and say “There’s an answer, it’s not what you think it is but it’s real. Stop tinkering with machines that cannot be fixed, with gears too rusted to move. It’s not about changing the laws so much as it is about changing your hearts. Everything in the world should be telling you, screaming at you even, that you have to find something higher, something better, something more human and more real. There’s a teacher, an enlightener, a hope, a savior, and he’s not far away. Find him and you will find what is needed and you will discover that he has been looking for you before you ever thought about it.”
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us!
and everything has slowed to its pace. Whatever plans were made. Whatever things were supposed to happen. It all has been rearranged. We think we are in control. We think we are above the world. We believe our machines can triumph over all and the sheer force of our will always prevail. Ah, but the snow, it comes and all is changed. The snow falls and we become less then the gods we believe ourselves to be. We come back to earth. We become humans again, fragile, on a schedule not our own, needing each other and humbled by the earth from which we were made.
Such it is with snow, and us, and the reality of things.
If we move out of our self, whom do we encounter? asks Bishop Theophan. He supplies the answer at once: We meet God and our neighbour. It is for this very reason that denying oneself is a stipulation, and the chief one, for the person who seeks salvation in Christ: only so can the centre of our being be moved from self to Christ, who is both God and our neighbour.
the world is a mess and we see the reason why every time we look in the mirror. Yet the call of Lent is not so much about the undeserving doing penance to avert the wrath of God as it is about the prodigal coming to their senses and starting to make the journey home.