Rethinking Ash Wednesday

With the lengthening of the days, mid February reminds us that spring is at hand. Those longer days remind us not only that spring is at hand, but that Lent will soon be upon us. Indeed, Ash Wednesday is that coming week.  And, as we usually do, we will have services at 7 AM, 7 PM and at Noon. Ash Wednesday is a day of great solemnity in the church, but I think it is often misunderstood as the solemn moment of sorrow for our sins. O, to be sure, we are called to repent, and to return to the Lord.   But the day originally set apart for dealing with individual sins was Shrove Tuesday.  Lapsed from such common usage, to be shriven meant to be forgiven, pardoned and absolved.  Shrove Tuesday was not just the day for eating pancakes; it was a day for making one’s individual confession that one might know the joy of God’s forgiving grace and health again.

Ash Wednesday was more properly a day of community sorrow; a day upon which one reflected that we are indeed made of dust and to dust we shall return, but it was a day upon which there was a focus on the wider implication of the sinful condition of all humankind. Being so focused on sins, we forget that there is a geometric proportion to sin: ones sins affect and become the contents of the vast hopper of the sins of all. That is so clearly demonstrated in the way in which it is so difficult to achieve healing and reconciliation. Face it, it is much easier for humans to be at odds with one another and ‘twas ever thus since Cain slew his brother Abel. True reconciliation requires both parties to step up to the plate.  And so, there is a corporate dimension to the Litany of Penitence. In this instance, when we say that WE have done something, we are not attempting to be polite. WE are making a statement about the human condition.

So, I pray for all of you that you squander not the glorious opportunity that Lent presents. For it is not singly about the human condition, but it is about God’s love of us in spite of that condition. We begin with repentance, but we end with the celebration of the Love.  Could it be that when we deny the necessity of repentance that we also miss the depth of Love?



Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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