Returned earlier this evening from the Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, MN. A lovely service ending with a favorite hymn: Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling . . . (“Come Home . . . Come Home . . . Ye who are weary, come home!”)
Most people (okay, people who think about it at all), probably think of Ash Wednesday in terms of ashes and repentance and “what are you giving up for Lent this year” . . . and indeed the service contains those elements . . . from the opening “lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness” through “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” to the Litany of Penitence (more on that soon).
Yet, despite these familiar notions of Ash Wednesday and Lent, the Bible lessons for the day are cautionary tales about resisting the urge to wave our fasting in front of the world and think that God will be pleased. We are reminded, first by Isaiah, then by Matthew, of a different path through Lent.
Isaiah 58 asks
“6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
By following this path, according to Isaiah,
“12. . . you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” [NRSV]
Similarly, Matthew 6 cautions against “performing” before God and others:
“4When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively.”
6“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense [God’s] grace.” [The Message]
My “favorite” part of the Ash Wednesday service is the Litany of Penitence, a longer form of the “Confession”. Tonight, the youth of Saint Mary’s added pictures to each of the sections to illustrate the presence of these “sins” in all of our lives. May this list provide a sort of “TO DO” list of things to think about and try to remedy during Lent. [emphases in bold are mine]
Litany of Penitence
[from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979]
Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
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.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit. Have mercy on us, Lord.
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives, We confess to you, Lord. Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, We confess to you, Lord.
Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, We confess to you, Lord.
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work, We confess to you, Lord.
Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, We confess to you, Lord.
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, Accept our repentance, Lord.
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, Accept our repentance, Lord.
For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, Accept our repentance, Lord.
Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
May praying on the above “list” allow each of us to become, to paraphrase the words of Isaiah, repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in.
Thanks to St. Mary’s Rev. LeeAnn Watkins for emphasizing this verse in her sermon tonight.