I was reintroduced to the liturgical calendar when I began serving in a United Methodist Church in the winter of 2009. I knew that some traditions of the Church used a calendar to mark the seasons, but I did not grow up with it. Or at least it was not something at the top of my consciousness as a regular churchgoer.
It truly is amazing how something as simple as the liturgical calendar can help you to refocus your attention on what God is doing in the world and in your life. As I have embraced this new awareness and rhythm in my own life, I have found myself more mindful and present to God’s work.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The ashes imposed on the foreheads of believers during the service are the burned remains of the palms of previous years Palm Sunday. (At least that is what I was told they were supposed to be!) There are a few reasons for this, but for me, one symbol this represents is that we all must embrace our own culpability in the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus entered the great city of Jerusalem and was welcomed by a throng of people declaring that he was the long-awaited Messiah. And yet, just days later, many of those who welcomed him to the city was denying and decrying him as a criminal.
The cost of following Jesus is enacted when we accept our own part in the drama of Ash Wednesday. Where our lipservice and empty praise is burned up and all that is left is the black ash of sin. We all must remember that we are dust, and to dust, we shall return. The only hope we have is found in the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is the telling (and retelling) of the old story that all of humanity can never ascend into God’s throne room. We must be brought in by one who is worthy. And that one is Jesus.
The purpose of the season of Lent is to call us all to intentionally forsake some convenience or habit so that we might dedicate time and energy to God. The practice of forsaking the things of this world for the sake of Christ should not be limited to a few weeks a year. It is the life-long call to obedience we have accepted as disciples of Christ. But, we forget to do it. And, because we do, the Church calendar make it a point to call us back to this important discipline. My prayer in this season of Lent is that I would see my forsaking of the things of this world as a gift and not a chore. As an opportunity and not an obstacle. As a time for renewal and not a season of toil.