For many Christians around the world, today is like another New Year’s Day. We are full of enthusiasm for making resolutions at the beginning of Lent, this season of pilgrimage dedicated to reflection on Christ’s journey toward Jerusalem that culminates in his passion, death and resurrection. Readings for this Ash Wednesday are full of instruction on how to act during these 40 days. The prophet Joel starts us off with a clarion call from God saying: Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart…Rend your heart, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God. Psalm 51 chimes in with this: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me…a willing spirit sustain in me. St. Paul is his usual ardent self as he urges the Corinthians: Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says, “In an acceptable time I have heard you and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time…” The verse before the gospel is as familiar as it is instructive: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.
Finally, all of these hints of how to act culminate in a message of Jesus that is full of true devotion, humility and mature practice for our actions and our prayer. Take care, Jesus says, not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them. (This is a good place to stop and think as it holds a great temptation sometimes. We all want to be well thought of, after all.) But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret…When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…But…anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden…(No drama, just sincerity.)
You can see by all the ellipses that I have chosen just the snippets that serve my purpose which is to look at a deeper way to consider not just the practices that we choose as Lenten disciplines but rather at the underlying purpose of them. It is all about the heart, you see. All about our movement toward the heart of our striving, which is entrance into the heart of God. So if it is chocolate that you give up for these 40 days, do it to remind yourself each time you reach out for a piece that God is the sweetness that you truly desire. If you take a daily trek to Church, make that your inner room where you and God can be alone, in communion. Above all that we can take along on this pilgrimage, let one of our companions be a consciousness of how Jesus walked his journey in his full humanity, carrying out his mission of love and surrender to the God in whose heart he lived every moment of every day. And let us do the same, together.