Today is Ash Wednesday. Over the past few years, this day in the Christian year which signals the beginning of Lent has come to mean a lot to me. It reminds me of my own mortality ("You are dust, and to dust you shall return"). This year I wasn't able to attend an Ash Wednesday service, but in previous years, I have been deeply moved by the ritual of ashes as practiced by most liturgical Christian churches. The grit of the ash on my forehead, the smudges on the faces of my brothers and sisters who surround me, the sensation of leaving the service as one literally marked as a Christ follower... And into what do we follow Christ? Well, right now we are following Christ into 40 days of waiting, of silence, of contemplation, of expentancy. But unlike the expectancy of Advent (which results in the joy of new birth and the hope of God-with-us), the expectancy of Lent will yield suffering before it yields joy. The mystery of Lent is the mystery of Christ's suffering. The fruit of Lent is a Cross and a Tomb. And even though we know that the tomb will eventually be emptied and resurrection will eventually set us all free ... even so, Christ's suffering endures for a season. For one holy silent Saturday, God-with-us was with us no longer. That is the reality toward which Lent points, the reality that precedes resurrection.
Did you know that, in the Catholic tradition, the ashes from this year's Ash Wednesday service are made from the palm fronds used in last year's Palm Sunday service? Palm Sunday ... a time far from now, a time full of Christ's presence and the eschatalogical hope of God's Reign, a time when the atmosphere is full of hope, when people are (quite simply) caught up in the excitement of a parade in the streets. Thus there are within Ash Wednesday and within Lent seeds of real hope! But the other side of hope is waiting, and on this far-from-perfect earth, waiting often involves suffering.
This Lent let us especially remember those who suffer most in our world. Those who wait to experience war. Those who wait to wage war. Let us enter into the hope that all war (which ravages the hearts and the bodies of both the war-wagers and those whom war is waged against) will cease, that Lent 2003 will not be a time of death in our world ... but that rather, it will yield life, life which lasts, and peace which nourshes the whole of creation.
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