Sermon: Ash Wednesday

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

Wisdom according to Bill Murray, “Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you’re donating blood.”

Here in a few minutes, I’m going to speak the following words to you: “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.” After the past twelve months, I kinda feel like we’ve done a fair amount of “fasting” and “self-denial.” In fact, it seems that we’ve come close to giving 100% of all we’ve got to give and so I’ve been asking myself, “When will it be enough?” But I also wonder if maybe we’ve been so focused on what we’ve lost, that we haven’t been able to focus on anything else.

One of the best books I know on loss and grief is A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. The book is a series of reflections on grief and loss that Lewis wrote following the death of his wife after only three years of marriage. Towards the beginning of the book he speaks about how everything revolves around what was lost: “I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache an about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” (p.9)

We experience loss, then we think about the loss, and then we think about thinking about our loss. A horrible cycle that as it draws us into ourselves, it pushes everything else out. Lewis then speaks about grief and loss in terms of fear and suspense, which I think aptly describes where so many have been: “grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” (p.33)

Sound familiar? In the past twelve months, we have lost everything from the opportunity to go on a cruise in the Bahamas to those we have loved the most. What do we do in our grief and our loss? We pace the house. We get bored. We eat too much. Drink to much. We binge watch TV too much. We’ve got more time on our hands than we’ve ever had before, and we’ve know idea what to do with it, even when we have things to do! So again, how can I stand up here and encourage you to self-reflect—when that’s all you’ve been able to do, to fast—when we’ve been fasting from life, to practice self-denial—because there’s not much left to deny? I can ask you to do these things—and perhaps it’s just me and this is a public confession—but in the midst of our loss and grief, we’ve, on occasion, lost the most important thing: we’ve lost our sense of God.

He just doesn’t seem as close as he use to be. We don’t talk to him as much as we did. We don’t sit with him in silence, enjoying the beauty of creation. We’ve drifted. You would think with all the isolation, fasting, and self-denial that we’ve done, we would have drawn closer, but, in many cases, the opposite is true. Why? Because we’ve been doing all the self-denial, etc., because we’ve been forced to do it, but when we do them for God, we do them out of love—that we might draw nearer to God, by placing our faith and needs in his hands. Therefore, I am going to ask you and myself to observe this holy Lent, with all of its practices, but to adhere to them—not because you are forced—but because of your love for the One True God. And if you don’t feel that love, then pray that he will show you, for he has not forgotten his people.

As a father cares for his children,
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.

And in remembering, he will never leave or forsake us.

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