Ash Wednesday 2014 – Br. Mark Brown

Today we begin another season of light. The seasons of the Church year are all about Jesus Christ, and what he does and who he is. He is the Light of the World.  So even Lent is a season of light. In the most literal way, Lent is about the increase of sunlight: “Lent” is a cousin of the English word “length”.  The days are getting longer; there are more hours of sunlight.  Spring is coming.

In the northern hemisphere at least, this increasing light is the season in which we approach Easter, the celebration of Resurrection. The Day of Resurrection is the culmination, the climax of the entire Christian year; it is the celebration of the Church’s greatest and most glorious mystery.  From very early on, Christians have prepared for this greatest of celebrations with a forty-day period of reflection, self-examination, penitence, repentance, abstinence, fasting and other ascetic practices, prayer, good works. Local practice has varied enormously over the centuries.Our practice here of Lent is largely shaped by the Book of Common Prayer. There is a strong emphasis on acknowledging our sinfulness in what we do and leave undone; in what we do as individuals and corporately. We are enjoined to be remorseful for our sins and to amend our lives.

But we prepare for the great mystery of Resurrection not only by acknowledging sinfulness, but God’s eagerness to forgive, God’s eagerness to lift the burden of sin from our shoulders. In a little while we will pray together the Litany of Penitence.  It is quite a list of sins, which we name and for which we beg the Lord’s mercy. A sober recognition of our sinfulness is appropriate to the occasion. But paradoxically, this catalog of sins is also a reminder of the multitude of things for which we are so graciously forgiven.

We can see the Litany of Penitence as a measure of God’s loving-kindness and eagerness to forgive. “We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.”  (The first petition of the Litany.) To which the Lord replies: I forgive you.  I have forgiven you, I do forgive you, I shall always forgive you.  Come, enjoy my feast.

Our earnestness is surely received with a most tender fatherly affection. But as the waves of our supplications mount up, the radiance of Christ’s eagerness to forgive shines all the brighter.  As the waves of our remorse beat against the bosom of our most gracious Light, our most graciously forgiving Light, he urges us all the more to join him in the happiness of his banquet.  Happy are they whose sins are forgiven; happy are they who are invited to the Supper of the Lamb.

Our sins, whatever they may be, are simply no match for his generous forgiveness. Our failures, whatever they may be, are simply no match for his most gracious hospitality.  Welcome to this season of light.

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