Tonight, I will be at St. John's serving at the altar, and have been given the assignment to read the epistle lesson from 2 Corinithians. I've done this assignment before, so there's nothing particularly new and different in what I'm doing. But as I looked over the lesson this morning, and weighed for myself this Lenten season, the opening line of this Scriptural passage seemed to be "the message" for me on this Ash Wednesday.
"Be reconciled to God." I was saying to someone yesterday when the inevitable question came up of "What are you gonna give up for Lent?" that I don't sit around coming up with material things I can give up. I've tried fasting from tangible stuff, like chocolate bars, when I was a child. But that whole approach to Lent doesn't really work for me. For me, I often have to wait until Ash Wednesday, and then, pretty much on cue, something will present itself to me, usually during the worship service, that sharpens the focus and gives me the necessary, "A-ha!" to know what I must do as a Lenten discipline.
The purpose of Lent, and keeping a Holy Lent, is to evaluate what it means to be a child of God, and shine some awareness in the dark corners of my head and heart on those things or mental blocks or action or even lack of action that have kept me from being in right relationship with God. Or, to put it in the words of St. Paul, I see what I need to "be reconciled to God." The more I become aware of my shortcomings in this relationship, the more opportunity I have to make amends.
That seems to be the charge for me in this Lent. And that raises the question of "How?'
I think it begins with my dealings with others. To put into practice a ministry of reconciliation, I need to become conscious of my words and my actions. Do they build up another or tear them down? If I desire for people to see the Christ in me, shouldn't I be looking for the Christ in them? How am I really loving God, who I can't see, with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my strength, if I am stepping over the brother or sister in need who I can see?
God became reconciled to us through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Becoming reconciled to God, I reflect on the Gospel lesson for today from Matthew with Christ's warnings about practicing your piety in public, disfiguring your face when you're fasting, and going into your room and praying in private. Empty public displays of religion are not what God requires in this reconciliation. What God asks for, as the psalmist says, is a "broken and contrite heart." Despite this invention of the church to impose ashes on the forehead and remind us of our mortality, it seems that the overwhelming message coming at me from the Gospel is that the reconciliation that I must do involves not an outward display of devotion, but an inward rebooting of the hard drive of my heart. This will be necessary if I am to join in the walk to Jerusalem.
What is that Jerusalem? Where must I go?
As always, for me, observing a Holy Lent is an unnerving moment of realizing I have a long walk ahead of me.