This brief meditation for the first Sunday in Lent was originally printed in the bulletin at my parish, Trinity Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas.
A Meditation for Lent I
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, one of the most somber days in the Christian year. In its liturgy, a simple Biblical image is made central; we are signed with ashes and told, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (cf. Gen. 3:19). The tragic elements of human existence — sin and death — are made visible, not only to ourselves but to all who look upon us.
Unlike other seasons of the Church year, we do not say that we celebrate Lent. Rather, we say that we observe it. Traditional observance incorporates a fast for the whole season in which we refrain each day from some small delight, such as one type of food or a particular pastime. But in Lent, sacrifice is about far more than just letting go. The site of our sacrifice becomes a site for remembrance. In the place of emptied pleasure, we may better hear the angelic question asked in Jesus’ empty tomb: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5)
Dust and ashes thus direct us not towards paralysis, but towards movement—the movements of repentance, restoration, and renewal. Other Lenten devotional practices, most notably the Stations of the Cross, are also far from stationary. We hear all of this quite clearly in the devotional poem “Lent,” written by the 17th-century poet-priest George Herbert. In the sixth stanza, he writes, “It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’th day; / Yet to go part of that religious way, / is better than to rest” (ll. 31 – 33). In meditating upon our movement from dust to dust, our toil may be inspired. The Lenten pilgrimage is made on our feet — and Lent itself has already begun.