This Wednesday, February 25, is for the Episcopal and many other churches Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The following words come from the Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday:
“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.”
-Book of Common Prayer, p.265
This invitation is the doorway into Lent. Upon first hearing this invitation it is easy to think, “Well Lent is here again and these are the things I am supposed to do to get through Lent.” But what if it is not just about getting through Lent? Maybe the real question is, “How will Lent get through to me?”
We often think of Lent as a penitential season and it is. But far too often “penitential” is misunderstood and Lent often becomes nothing more than a season of blame, guilt, regret, and disappointment. That is not what Lent is about. In fact, the very first sentence of the Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday says, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made….” If that is God’s attitude then it should also be ours. St. Iranaeus, a bishop of the second century, said “What God creates, God loves; and what God loves, God loves everlastingly.”
We need to hear these words and take them deep into ourselves. We need to hear these words as applicable to us, to those we love, to our friends and families, to those we do not like, and to those we do not even know or want to know.
The Lenten invitation is an invitation to the interior life, a call to discover and live into our true identity, our identity in God. Who we are in God is who we are. And who we are in God is a beloved daughter or son. We are no longer dependent on culture or even our own estimation for our identity.
That’s where the self reflection comes in. Lent invites us to look at the ways in which we have allowed our fears, attitudes, behaviors, our accomplishments, successes and failures, as well as the opinions of others to tell us who we are, to separate us from God, ourselves, and each other. Lent invites us to repent of, fast from, and let go of those false identities and recover our true identity as God’s holy people made in the image and likeness of God.