This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones, on March 6,Ash Wednesday, 2019, is built around the readings assigned for Ash Wednesday and the Invitation to The Observance of A Holy Lent found on page 264 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Here is a recording of the sermon delivered at the 12:00 noon service on Ash Wednesday:
Here is a transcript of the recorded sermon:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Please be seated.
It is to be sure a remarkable thing that we do this day. Wednesday, a work day, the middle of the day, 16° outside, and we have come together to take the first steps on a difficult and perilous journey; a journey that will be marked by beatings, imprisonments, riots… Oh, no wait. That was Paul’s journey. Our journey will be marked by self-examination and repentance, by prayer fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. Not easy disciplines to keep. If they were easy, there would be no need to invite us all to enjoin in these practices at this moment. So, this journey through the season of Lent will be difficult. And while we’re not likely to suffer imprisonment, riots, labors, it will be a perilous journey; because during this season of Lent we will be called to look inside of ourselves and to see with God’s eyes; and to dare to name those places within us that we would rather not expose to anyone, maybe even to ourselves.
We will be called to identify those places in our lives that don’t fill us with joy and life, but which cause us some degree of pain, and shame, and discomfort. And during this season we’ll be called to wrestle with those things, and, perhaps limping for the rest of our lives, walk away from them, turning our backs on them, and turning back to God, the one who gives us light and life and joy.
So, it is a difficult and perilous journey that we undertake this day. And even more remarkable, I think, because in just a few moments we’ll come forward and kneel at this rail, and be reminded of our own fragility, our mortality. We’ll kneel here at the rail and have ashes smeared on our foreheads in the sign of the cross, and hear the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” a reality that most of our culture would like to ignore or even deny. And yet, we will come forward today and volunteer both for this journey and for this reminder.
Then, just a few minutes later, we’ll return to this rail, and we’ll hold out our hands, and ask for help. We’ll hold out our hands and receive the symbol and the sign of God’s ongoing presence in our midst and in our lives. We’ll hold out our hands and we’ll be reminded that, even as we walk this journey, seeking to rid ourselves of the things that hold us back, the things that chain us, God is walking by our sides. Even as we seek absolution, we are being forgiven. Even as we work to come closer to the heart of God, God is before us, behind us, beside us, within us; moving us along this path, holding us up and showing us the way. I think it’s probably accurate to say that without that reassurance of God’s presence, and love, and forgiveness; without the promise of that new light that will break at the end of this journey, we might not dare to take these first steps. Even together, this journey would be terrifying, if not for the truth, and the faith, and the belief, that at the end of this journey is God; and for this reminder that on every step of the way, as we make that journey to our destination, God is by our sides. So, this day we come together to begin a journey that will lead us ever deeper into the heart of God, and allow God’s light, and life, and love to shine more brightly within us and around us.
The world may wonder as we walk among them today with this symbol of death and mortality on our foreheads. And they may expect, as they look on us with that sign on our heads, to seem grim, disheartened, downcast, even afraid. I think that as we walk this earth with Earth smeared on our foreheads, we can do it with our eyes lifted up, with confidence, and faith, hope, and even joy. Someone greeted me after the early service this morning in the Narthex, and she said I guess is probably not appropriate to say Happy Ash Wednesday. But you know if you listen to this Invitation to the Observance of a Holy Lent, it says “Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the gospel of our Savior…” I can’t think of anything happier than a message of pardon and absolution. So, if someone looks at you questioningly, and starts to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got dirt on your forehead…” You just look at them and say Happy Ash Wednesday. Amen