Dear friends and members of Resurrection,
As hard as it is to imagine, we have lived through an entire church year, physically distanced. When we closed the doors of our building last year, it was Lent. On February 17, we begin Lent 2021 with the observance of Ash Wednesday.
This 40-day season reminds us of other significant times recounted in the Bible: Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days before he began his ministry, Moses on Mt. Sinai for 40 days before the Lord “spoke” the 10 commandments, the people of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land.
These periods of preparation pushed those living them to their limits. They needed God to come through for them; they were not sure they could endure much more. That is what the number 40 signifies in the Bible.
Lent—the season in the church year when we prepare to face the awful beauty of the cross and resurrection—is meant to push us to our limits, to cause us to realize anew the truth that without God we cannot endure.
This year that truth is not hard to grasp. We have struggled as individuals and as a community to endure. The Ash Wednesday words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” have become chillingly obvious.
Yet ashes are not only a reminder of our mortality, but are also a symbol of new beginnings. In the springtime, farmers often burn their fields to prepare the soil for a rich new harvest.
So too, I want us to think about the possibility of new beginnings coming from the ashes of this past year. Can we imagine an abundant harvest coming from the seeds that have been planted? Are there old ways of living that have “burned” to make way for God's newness?
This year, the Ash Wednesday worship service will be recorded and available for you to watch anytime on February 17. In the midst of that liturgy, you will be invited to mark your forehead with a cross while hearing those words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
I also want you to hear the words, “child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” For those are the words that were spoken at your baptism when your forehead was marked with a cross of oil.
Both of these truths about the one cross, matter. We are mortal and we are eternal. We die and we live forever. This holy mystery is glimpsed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, where we see the culmination of both hate and of love.
Do not be afraid to enter Lent. You will not walk it alone, though the journey is often lonely. Let it be a time when what needs to die, dies, and what needs to begin anew, begins.
Ash Wednesday 2021. Where will we be 40 days later?
The Rev. Dr. Mary Ubuntu is the spiritual leader of Resurrection Lutheran Church and has served in that capacity since 2003. More on Pastor Mary can be found HERE.