Ash Wednesday – Four Movements for the Season
– Br. Michael, ofm
This reflection is based on the prescribed scripture for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2.12-18, Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.2, and Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18.
And the countdown begins. Will we survive the journey to Easter? Will it feel long and drawn out or disappear without us evening noticing? Beyond what we will give up or do more of in these forty days, the scriptures today bring to our attention four movements for the Season of Lent.
In the gospel the focus is on personal practices and how healthily we enter into them. Jesus reminds us how some of our practices are not about being recognized or announcing the gospel publicly, rather they are interior-heart work first. Rather Jesus speaks of what we need to do as individuals so we will be in tune with our hearts and the other movements of the season. Lent is a season and opportunity for us to review how and why we give of ourselves. Is our almsgiving out of duty or because our heart is stirred into awareness? Jesus also addresses how we spend time in prayer, is it because it’s on the should do list or because we know it is our source? Finally, Jesus asks us what we need to fast from so as to make space for the Word of God in our lives. We must ask where do we make the time and space for this?
It is in reviewing our personal practices we can see what steps are ours to take during this season. These early days in this half week of Lent are a good opportunity for us to review, reflect and make choices for the next six weeks. The next few days are like the warm up days of Lent for us to be honest, realistic and focus on how we have been living and how we can draw closer to Christ this Lent. The church gives us plenty of opportunity to “begin again”, as St. Francis would remind us. Reviewing our personal practices leads us into community, which is another movement of Lent.
Community is one of the focuses of the testimony of the prophet Joel. He speaks of how God desires us to be one and how God showers us with mercy, grace and steadfast love. These qualities are reflected in a community which knows each other and values each member; it is a place of reconciliation. The prophet Joel reminds us to come from our personal practices to then sound the trumpet to gather together. Gather the people of all ages and from all walks of life, and be community together. Be attentive to God at work in each other, support each other in the work which is each of ours to do and encourage each other. In doing so we come to the third movement of the season which is that of witness.
As Saint Paul says, “we are ambassadors for Christ” for now is the acceptable time. Now is, not when we have it all figured out or when we have the perfect Lent plan or when our personal practices all align. Rather, now we are ambassadors giving witness to Christ as individuals and as a community and in doing so we honor each other and our bonds. Being an ambassador calls us from our personal practices into community and from community into our personal practices and back again into community. It is strengthening upon strengthening, courage upon courage, renewal upon renewal. A community of believers who because of our baptism are advocates, supporters and diplomats (or said another way we are priests, prophets and kings) for, of and with Christ.
Which leads us to the fourth movement, which is present in the other three and in all the movements of our lives: our God meeting us with mercy. The steadfast love of God is the very heart of God woven into our personal practices, our ways of being community and in being ambassadors. It is always because of the mercy of God that our hearts are transformed. Psalm 51 declares, “created a clean heart, with a new and right spirit within each of us.” This is the mercy of God meeting us in the season of Lent, as mercy does in all the seasons of our lives. For now, is the acceptable time for restoring because the beautiful part of this restoring is we are always active participants with our God.
The season is ours, there is nothing to lose, let us be attentive to the four movements as we journey with our Saviour. What will our personal practices be? How will we be community? How will we be ambassadors? Where will the mercy of God meet us? It begins here today as we marked with Ashes entering into this season and in coming to the table of mercy and love to be nourished taking these first steps into this Lent nurtured, open and ready. Now is the acceptable time, let us not delay.
Photo credit: Ahna Ziegler
February 22, 2023