'Ukumbuke' is a command - a polite imperative if you want to get technical. It means 'Remember.' '[...]
For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day fall on the same date, February 14th. On social media and elsewhere, people have voiced concern about what to do with such a rare convergence. Ashes or hearts? Dinner out with one’s beloved or a service of penitence with one’s community of faith?
The season of Lent plays out for forty days. It isn’t just about ashes or repentance on one day. Lent offers a long, slow time to reenter our relationship with God.
The first lesson of Lent is this: We are not God. The ashes on our forehead, the reminder of our vulnerability, fragility, finitude, or whatever word best conveys the stark appreciation that neither we nor those we love live forever, is central to the Bible lessons of Lent. We are called not to mistake our ways for God’s way. This is easy to forget, with our human inclination to put ourselves at the center.
A second lesson of Lent is this: Our fears are not the last word. There are lots of reasons to feel untethered in our world today. Core values, social systems, political leadership all seem in flux. There is competition for public funds and tax benefits; debates about individual rights and community life. In the midst of massive changes in our institutions (including the church), it is tempting to react to everything with a sense of fear and loss. In Lent we are reminded that there is a word stronger than our fears. It is the word of God’s grace and mercy for us; the word of Christ’s resurrection.
This past Sunday I baptized five new Christians at Hmong Central Lutheran Church. What a privilege it was to share this sacrament with Seng, June, Gracie, Yasmin, and Sheng. As I made the sign of the cross on the forehead of these three adults and two children, I said to each – Child of God, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And that is a third lesson in Lent. We are each someone’s beloved. We belong to God. With our vulnerability, fragility, finitude, and fears we are held close by the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.
Ashes or hearts? Dinner with one’s beloved or a time of worship with one’s community of faith? I’m willing to bet that you will find ways to do both just as you care for a family, show up for work, write thank you notes, organize your neighborhood, and say prayers for others each day of the year. All the same, I hope you won’t miss this year’s opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and hear afresh from the God who is God. Blessed Lent.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Patricia Lull