The themes of sin, mortality and need for grace are common during Lent, and particularly on Ash Wednesday. King David lifts us these themes in Psalm 51, as he was confronted by the prophet Nathan as a result of his own sin. Listen for a word from God.
I am exceedingly tired today. Just dead tired. Anyone on staff could tell you I was not myself this morning. One of my 2 year old daughters has been waking up at 4am each night for the last couple nights and has been inconsolable. Last night she screamed for more than two hours straight in the middle of the night, for no apparent medical reason or physical issue, throwing the rest of the house totally off. I can take being up in the middle of the night once in a while here and there but not several nights in a row. It was like they were new borns again. I’m getting too old for this.
And so I felt sorry for myself this morning. Do you ever have the feeling that you are a walking zombie? Just in a fog? Walking around and you aren’t sure where you are going? You start to feel sorry for yourself. That’s where I was this morning. Often our heads are in the clouds and we are very busy around here but this morning all I could do is focus on breathing and try to take each step ahead of me.
But the church was still here and needed attention. Lent has begun. Worship still happens, the show must go on. I needed to be at noon worship as we added a noon worship service this year.
And as I was leading worship at noon, sort of dragging my feet honestly at first, I started to feel suddenly alive. I thought, you are feeling acutely mortal, David, well, this is appropriate. This is what Ash Wednesday is all about. It’s about feeling your humanity. It’s about realizing your mortality. It’s about remembering we are dust and to dust we shall return.
The somberness and sobriety of Ash Wednesday reminds us of the severity of sin and the seriousness of death. That if I feel every step I take rather than gliding along and if all I can do is live moment to moment, that is an appropriate expression for Lent.
For Lent is about our slowing down, looking inward and recognizing that in the end, and in the grand scheme of things, much of what we fret about is not essential. What matters most are the relationships, with God and others, the investments of time we make to help, and the love we share.
Because that is what Jesus Christ does for us at Easter. Comes in relationship, invests time in humanity and gives his life on the cross to help as an act of love.
I had a whole sermon written for today tying the scriptures of the prophet Joel to the Psalm of David. That’s for another day. I decided to share how I was feeling instead.
Now both Joel and David do have much to say about repentance and longing and praise. Joel tells us, “Your God…is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relents from punishing.” David cries for the “joy of God’s salvation.”
Both texts are important. Both individuals struggled with the weariness of life.
And often so do we. Indeed, so did our Lord. The lectionary reading the first week of Lent often focuses on Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and was famished. He had to have been dead tired.
Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final public mass as Pope. He is resigning at the end of the month because he is tired and feels he needs to step aside and allow someone with more energy to step forward and lead. I think it’s appropriate that Ash Wednesday is the day for his last mass, because he is showing uncommon humility.
Benedict is the first Pope in nearly 600 years to step down voluntarily. He is recognizing his humanity and the need to be realistic about our human condition. That our mental and physical faculties don’t last forever. That change is inevitable. And that there are seasons of life. Recognizing that puts everyone else in perspective.
But there is also grace to be found in our experience of the sacred. That God has stores of power and life available to us when we slow down enough to tap into them.
We all feel weary. Dead tired. Helpless at times. In need of the mercy and salvation the Psalmist sung about.
We can find them during Lent. During Lent we are asked to consider our human condition, but also asked to consider the new possibilities offered to us in Jesus Christ, and the implications of those for our living.
When we get to Holy week we begin to focus on the benefits of God’s redemption. But we take in the power of Holy Week if during Lent, we recognize that what each of us needs when we are tired is renewal. Renewal of our spiritual lives so that we have energy for our journey. Renewal of our hearts so we have the courage and confidence to go forward. Renewal of our minds so we can commit ourselves to our task and to our God. Renewal of our faith so we can experience the joy of God’s Easter salvation.
So ask yourself this season.
When I think about how Jesus sacrificed to give me what I do not deserve, how can I find places to renew my worship of Christ and speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves?
And in the sign of the ashes, in the face of the busyness, among those we commune with, amidst the weariness, we stop on Ash Wednesday to ponder the cross and to decide to take our first steps towards it. And thus begins the soul work of Lent. May it be so. Amen.