Mark’s gospel is known for its haste. Jesus is here and then there and everything is so urgent and busy. We spent four weeks in Epiphany just in chapter one because everything happens in such a short span of time. Life is all crammed in and there is no time for details.
That could also describe my entry into the Lenten season. In a whirlwind of activity and meetings and work and hospital visits and writing, there wasn’t time to breathe! I think on Ash Wednesday I actually might have had two pots of coffee just to get me through. Go, go, go. Rush, rush, rush.
But then, we got to worship. Everything was finally set and we were sharing in familiar liturgy, age old hymns, quiet moments of reflection and confession and challenge.
We had 27 people in worship that evening… And while that might not sound like a lot, it was double what we had any other year I’ve been around. As people began to trickle in, as they came forward and I placed those ashes on each of their foreheads, as we broke the bread and shared the cup, it felt like home. A family gathered to remember we are human. A family gathered to say that we were sorry. A family gathered to start putting our lives back together… Together.
We always have a meal after Wednesday worship and before youth group starts, so we told folks to bring a dish to share. We feasted together on Ash Wednesday, and it never felt more right. Marked with the ashes, we knew we were mortal. We knew we had fallen short. But we also couldn’t stay there because the good news of God was also our story that night.
I sat with a couple who ocasionally attend our church – when they aren’t off being caregivers for aging parents. We shared stories. We talked about our hopes for the young people all around us. And they shared with me that even in these last few months, something is happening in our church. God is moving and the excitement and eagerness is building.
I learned two things last night.
1) all that rushing and moving was worth it. There is urgency in what we are doing because it is important and there is not a moment to waste
2) but we also have to stop and remember why. We have to slow our hearts and really listen.
Ash Wednesday has always had such a somber and holy and serious personality in my practice and theology. It was a day of darkness and despair, wailing and pleading.
But last night, when I stopped to look at all of us gathered around those tables in fellowship, I realized just how joyous Lent can be.
We trust in a God who brings light out of darkness, life out of death, strengh from weakness. I know, liturgically we have a few weeks to sit in our repentance… But God is good… All the time.
So pass the pie, and the baked beans, and the pistacio salad… Happy Lent!