The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
February 10, 2016
Think a minute of the fanciest invitation you ever received. Was it for a wedding, birthday, graduation or engagement party? A Bar or Bat Mitzvah? An Anniversary?
When you received the envelope in the mail, did you know it was something special? Did the envelope have a certain size? A certain weight? An unusual color? Was your name written in careful script? What did you think when you opened it up?
And then think of that occasion. Was it a memorable time? Were the people enjoyable, interesting? The food delicious, the music delightful, the entertainment exciting? Did the event live up to the promise of that invitation?
Today we receive a different kind of invitation. It has no special engraving, no calligraphy, no heavy paper or catchy theme. Today we come before God to receive the invitation to a holy Lent. An invitation which comes unadorned, with few trappings. As is the situation with any invitation we receive, we must have an interest in order to attend, we must accept, and then do what preparations are necessary.
Invitations come in many forms. On a day such as today, the invitation is often an internal one. In the Chronicle sent to our mailing lists yesterday, I quoted a poem that begins:
My heart is ready, Yes! My heart is ready!
Like a desert I am parched.(1)
We know our longing for the focus and promise of this time.
I remember the spiritual director on my first retreat saying to me that I may think that I had decided to come, made my plans for care for my children, meal preparation, car pools, but actually it wasn’t my doing, my idea. It was God who brought me there, who created the longing in my heart that led me to that time and that place.
God has brought you here today. That sacred invitation rests before us. Our worship, music, prayers, preaching, sacrament all move us toward self-examination. Hopefully they will give us the courage to ask God what we need to let go of, what we need to change. We all carry around bags laden with our burdens. Lent is the chance we’re given each year to ease those burdens. To let Christ take them from us.
But coming here, accepting the invitation, planning to attend, though, probably won’t guarantee either you or me a blessed Lent. To accept the invitation is to do more than maybe find a gift and see if the clothing you want to wear is back from the cleaner’s. To accept the invitation is to embark on a journey whose destination is Easter, but whose path asks much more of us than the preparations for a special day.
Today we receive ashes. Ashes to emphasize that Christ is our beginning, our end and the core of our being as we live. The ashes traditionally come from the remains of Palm Sunday’s palm fronds, burned and sifted. Through them we are linked with Holy Week, with Jesus’ death. Many betrayed him that day. Much as the rousing hosannas of those closest to him turned to denial as he was arrested and put to death, we deny and betray Jesus again and again. The ashes also remind us that this process of Lent is a chance to allow parts of who we are die, so that we can know resurrection life.
Let us accept the invitation to observe a holy Lent. Together we embark on a journey where we know the destination, Easter, but don’t know the path. We do know that we will be led to that path, and guided on that path by God who loves us and desires the best for us.
This simple envelope, stripped of glitz and glitter, holds the promise of dazzling transformation.
The event will far exceed the promise of the invitation. Don’t let the simple envelope fool you--God wants nothing more than to be able to give you and me the love our hearts long for. God wants nothing more than to give you and me the peace of knowing that we are forgiven. God wants nothing more than to bring you and me, transformed and empowered, to the joy of Easter.
Accept the invitation. Open the simple envelope. Embark with God, with Jesus Christ, on the journey that leads to new life.
(1) MacDonald, The Rev’d Canon Harold G., Vancouver Canada