Homily for Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020 (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
We need Lent. We need Lent because as Christians it is far too easy for us to become self-congratulatory – to see ourselves as “blessed” or “chosen” or, worse still, “right.” We need Lent because as Christians we forget that “going through the motions” of worship is not enough – that no matter how often we “say our prayers” or go to church our worship is only of value when it allows us to become closer to God and one another. We need Lent because we are prone to helplessness and hopelessness, falling prey to doubt and fear and forgetting that with God nothing is impossible. We need it because we consistently fail to remember that we are assured forgiveness, simply by sincerely asking. Above all, we need Lent to remind us that we are not and have never been alone.
Today’s Holy Scriptures remind us that since the dawn of time people have rejected God’s desire for our perfection and peace. They also tell us that in every age God has nonetheless offered us reconciliation and blessing. Evil and darkness haunted the people who listened to the words of Joel, and those who heard the song of the psalmist. It caused worry and fear among the followers of Christ. Each of these peoples wept and despaired, ranted and raged, and were tempted to surrender to the gloom that surrounded them.
Just as we are. We look around us and consider that we may very well be lost – that there is no escape from the wickedness around us, and the wickedness in us. Our fear is present in our wariness of those who are different then we are. It lurks in our minds when we see the ease with which people can be manipulated – and when we recognize our own willingness to be manipulated. Fear confuses and frightens us. It makes us angry. Fear pushes us to hate when our purpose as Christians is to love.
These feelings have been part of the human condition since the time of Adam. They are normal – and they are sinful. They are sinful because they draw us away from the love of God and impair our ability to love one another. That is why we must repent of them and seek to put them behind us. This is why we need Lent.
The following is the text of “Lent 2020: A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Repentance Leading to Action: An Invitation from Presiding Bishop Curry to Turn and Pray on Behalf of our Nation.” As our spiritual leader, Bishop Curry recognizes our need for Lent – our need for repentance, prayer, and seeking greater closeness with God and one another. I urge you to listen to his words and to take them to heart as we enter this time of penitence and preparation.
“In times of great national concern and urgency, people of faith have returned to ancient practices of repentance, prayer and fasting as ways of interceding with God on behalf of their nation and the world. This is such a moment for us in the United States.
On Ash Wednesday, I … join with other Christian leaders observing this Lent as a season of prayer, fasting and repentance on behalf of our nation, with continued fasting each Wednesday until the Wednesday before Advent begins.
Our appeal comes during a time of profound division and genuine crisis of national character. This is not a matter of party or partisanship, but of deep concern for the soul of America.
The group of religious ‘Elders’ who share this commitment – the same group that over a year ago published the “Reclaiming Jesus” statement – includes Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant leaders. While we hold diverse political affiliations and positions on many issues facing our country, we find common ground in two shared convictions:
First and foremost, we are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord, and his way of love as our primary loyalty.
Second, because we love our country, we are concerned about its moral and spiritual health and well-being.
For me, this call is rooted in my personal commitment to practice Jesus’s Way of Love, by which I turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go and rest in the way of our savior. Especially now, drawn together by love, hope and concern, and recalling the wisdom of our ancient traditions, I am grateful to join others in the spiritual practice of prayer, fasting and repentance for our nation.
Let us pray:
Almighty God … We humbly pray that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“Your brother, The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church”