Lent has come earlier than expected for me; Ash Wednesday has already come twice.
As many of you know my nephew died of liver complications nine days ago. He was 25 when he passed and a kind, gentle soul his entire life. Though he was gravely disabled from birth, and non-verbal yet still communicative, my nephew reminded all who encountered him that our human value is not based on our accomplishments but on our relationships. He was the poster child for what theologians call the imago dei—the image of God with which we are created.
I write this missive from the Denver airport, where Laura and I have spent a mostly sleepless night. We are on our way to St. Pete, Florida where my dad lay in a hospital with kidney failure and possible sepsis after having had a heart attack. My dad is 84, and I do not know if I will see him again. It will be a blessing if we get to see him again; we will feel twice blessed if he makes a recovery. However, I have been around long enough to know where this is heading, eventually.
And so I am brought back to Lent and to Ash Wednesday.
Every year, in the Spring as the Earth renews itself and even the desert blooms again, the Christian faith reminds us of our frailty. The Ash Wednesday liturgy has never been more poignant than it feels this night: “From dust you were created and to dust you shall return.” When I was a local church pastor I would take the liberty of applying the principle in our Reformed worship known as “freedom in form” to adapt the form of the ancient liturgy—I would add “…and in life and in death you belong not to yourself but to Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own life freely paid for all your sins.” Lent is the Christian reminder to a radical realism about life, and it is also the promise of hope that in the face of every reality God abides.
As is my practice, when I can, I like to write and have continued writing on Matthew’s Gospel this past year to create a Lenten devotional that can be downloaded for printing or sent electronically to someone. The 40 readings in this year’s Lenten devotional cover Matthew 8-13 and seek to convey the Matthean text through paraphrase, poetry, prayer, and practice. I offer it to you as my pastoral gift to the life of our presbytery CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD a printable booklet
Lent begins on February 26 this year, and though I feel as if I have already experienced Ash Wednesday twice, so also have I experienced the enduring love of the Body of Christ through your prayers for me and my family. I thank you for your expressions of care and appreciate that, as I journey to the Cross, I know I do not journey alone.
Grace and peace,