Bishop’s Lenten Reflection
The Season of Lent is once again upon us. Ash Wednesday is traditionally earmarked in our liturgical calendar as the beginning of Lent when the faithful gather to commemorate the commencement of this solemn season. The Church invites all of us to enter into a period of solemn reflection and repentance. One that leads to reconciliation, amendment of life and a commitment to a new beginning at Easter. It is also a season that is commonly associated with a call to forgiveness.
The call to experience God’s forgiveness should not be thought of as automatic, even if we know, trust, and confess God, as the people did in Exodus 34:6. Here is a good place to contemplate that our sins hurt. They cost God something. We often focus on the physical pain of Jesus’ death during Holy Week. The text of Joel 2:12-17 gives us the opportunity to focus on the pain of our actions, and then even to contemplate that each time we ask for forgiveness we should stand like Joel, wondering if this time we have gone too far. This helps us understand that each act of forgiveness costs God something. Even if forgiveness is what God does, this does not mean it is perfunctory or should be taken for granted.
There is a crucial end game to Lent, and it is a call to self-examine and self-critique our interior life and exterior lifestyle to see how much they conform to the pattern and model espoused and commended to us by our Lord and Savior. After all, the goal of every Christian is to be the image and pattern of Jesus to the world, and that desire can only be achieved through a devoted and dedicated commitment to intentional prayer, spiritual silence, study of scripture, regular worship and giving to those in need. You will notice that much of this is referenced by Jesus in the readings for Ash Wednesday.
The ashes that are traditionally marked in the sign of the cross on our foreheads are obtained from palms distributed at Palm Sunday the previous year. The palms are collected and burned as a reminder of the year’s journey with all its various challenges, failures, joys, thanksgivings and brokenness experienced over the year in our spiritual journey. However, as much as Ash Wednesday leads us into a penitential pilgrimage, it is indeed a story of hope, restoration, renewal and forgiveness. It is a story that tells us that mingled with the multifaceted experiences of life God is able to take our brokenness and shortcomings and breathe new life, renewed hope, and reconciliation with God and each other. This is our redemption story. This is the gift of a loving God through Jesus Christ whose resurrection on Easter Sunday typifies and celebrates our reliability and dependability on Jesus’ message.
And now on a more celebratory note, this year 2018, the diocese celebrates its 150th Anniversary (Sesquicentennial) as a free-standing entity. In 1868 the General Convention gave their blessing to its formal establishment, which subsequently led to the calling of our founding bishop, The Right Reverend Henry Lay. A Design Committee has been working for the better part of a year to design an exciting list of activities to commemorate the occasion. Our Annual Diocesan Convention from February 23-24, will be asked to approve it. You will hear more about this after convention.
The following Sesquicentennial Collect is designed for use in all parishes beginning the first Sunday of Lent until Sunday, March 3, 2019, the culmination of observances.
Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary
Gracious God, through the movement of your Holy Spirit, you have brought forth our Church, the Diocese of Easton, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Strengthen us as an inviting and welcoming faith community transformed by the love, hospitality and reconciling truth of Jesus. Receive our worship, praise and thanksgiving; nurture and sustain our life in faith, and help us to be a grateful people of your grace upon grace; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
XI Bishop of Easton