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Lent is a time when God is calling us to REFLECT on our relationships and on our behavior.  It is also a call to PENANCE. To repent is to turn away from sin and evil and turn toward goodness and grace.  We respond to these calls with forms of disciplined spiritual devotion.  The emphasis in Lent is on human mortality and sin transformed by the redemptive love of God in Christ.

We mark this time liturgically with the color purple, we do not say “Alleluia” in the service, and we do not use the bells during the consecration.  At St. Michael’s, we put the Alleluias and the Bells away for the season and bring them out with flare on Easter Sunday.

Liturgically, we also exchange the praise hymn for “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy – or something in keeping with this sentiment.  The first Sunday of Lent, we will open with the great litany.

These changes are to mark this time as different.  Our worship should feel different. Our church should and will look a little different. And hopefully, our lives may look different, anticipating even a bigger different – a transformation from believing in God to trusting in God’s loving and healing power, God’s triumph over sin and death, and God’s ability to heal us all – individually and collectively.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

In our Book of Common Prayer, it states

…the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.  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.

In the Ash Wednesday service, you will then be invited to kneel and receive a mark of our mortal nature, ashes, and these words will be spoken

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

What feelings do the words that remind us that we are merely human bring to you? Is it a relief? Is it fear of our inevitable death? Is it urgency? Is it acceptance?

Temptation … In the Wilderness … Spirit’s driving force …

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

In this season, we take the time to recognize the temptations in our lives, we create space for God to strengthen us to resist them, and finally to give the empty space – that gives room for temptations to thrive – over to God by trusting in the Power of God to lead us NOT into temptation and to fill our hearts so full, we do not have the space for evil to live.

It is difficult to do while wandering in the wilderness – yet it can be the desolation of the wilderness that gives us the willingness, the desperation, the will to finally come to God open and willing to be filled with the Power of the Spirit.

This is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where people lined the streets with Palm branches, singing …

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

This is the night Jesus shares the passover meal with his disciples, is betrayed by one of his closest friends, and is arrested and taken, like a dangerous criminal, to Pilate to be tried.

Before the meal begins, Jesus bends down to wash his disciples feet as they enter.  When it is Peter’s turn, he objects but Jesus explains that he must accept this offer of hospitality if he is to follow Jesus.  After the meal, Jesus goes into the garden to pray.

At St. Michael’s, we gather for a simple meal and then go into the sanctuary for our worship. In the service, we all have an opportunity to wash the feet of another, as Jesus did for his disciples.  It was an act of hospitality and service to his friends who will carry on his work in the world after he is physically gone.  We also share in the Eucharist – a celebration of thanksgiving for the life that Jesus gave for us all and an offering of ourselves to the service of God.

After the Eucharist, the lights are dimmed and we “strip the altar.”  We take away everything in the altar area and it lays bare like the tomb in which the body of Jesus will be laid.  All the reserve hosts will be eaten and the wine will poured on the ground.  Then, the Aumbry light will be extinguished showing all that Christ is gone … until the evening of Holy Saturday, where we will gather again …

We know that God never abandoned us, and did not abandon Jesus in his death.  However, it can and does feel that way sometimes.  Sitting in this moment at this time gives us a stark contrast to what is to come.

Jesus suffered insult, injury, and humiliation.  He was betrayed by a friend – with a kiss – and then was flogged, ridiculed, beaten, and hung on a cross to die the painful death of a criminal.  On the cross, he cries out,

My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?

Even as we know that God has not abandoned Jesus, we do know how Jesus was feeling.  We too feel abandoned, and sometimes we feel abandoned by those who we are in our closest relationships; for humans always fall short.  But God does not.  We too can cry out to God, and God will be with us no matter our struggle.

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