THE BISHOP’S ASH WEDNESDAY MESSAGE 2014
On Ash Wednesday 2014, I invite you to observe this day and to begin the season of Lent as a celebration of the love, mercy and grace which we know in Jesus Christ. Jesus, after all, was never eager for any of those who followed him to become despondent, gloomy, or depressed. He desired solely that we should know him and love him, and through that love come closer to the Father. He told us, after all, that he came to make our burden lighter and our yoke easier. He told us that God is our Father and that he is our brother.
The message of the nearness of God, which you and I know in Jesus Christ, is a message of unmerited and undeserved love. It is the love of God – seen most clearly in Jesus – which can never be earned but which is always ours as a free gift. That message is at the heart of Ash Wednesday, even as it is at the heart of the other 364 days of the year! It is true that we are all sinners. But is equally true that God’s forgiveness is freely given to all who will accept it. That acceptance has a name: Repentance, and its practice is at the very heart of Lent.
What does this mean for us on this Ash Wednesday and during this season of Lent? It means that we can choose how we view this day, how we view this season. On the one hand, we can wear the ashes of Lent as a mark of the curse of the law, a sign of judgment, of guilt, of condemnation. Or, on the other hand, we can view those same ashes as a sign of God’s love, a reminder of our baptismal vows, and a seal of God’s faithfulness to us. I encourage you to join me in viewing them in the latter way: As a sign of freedom and as an emblem of rebirth…as a mark of God’s love and not as an indicator of his judgment.
As I have said to you before, the important thing about Ash Wednesday and about this Lenten Season should not be the dark smudge on our foreheads, but the smile on our faces…and the joy in our hearts on account of Him who died for us and rose for us: Jesus Christ our Lord. May this Lenten Season be for each of us a season of recognition – recognition of the love of God and of his profound and grace-filled love for each of us. May it also be a season of repentance as we seek to come closer to him, asking for his love, and accepting its gift freely offered to us. My prayer for each of you is that, this year, Lent will be a special season, a season in which you are drawn closer to God and his love through Jesus Christ.
The Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard