There is a heaviness in the air.
Can you feel it?
After two years of pandemic, after witnessing way too many acts of racially-motivated violence, after the terrible eruption of war in Ukraine, it is difficult to breathe.
We want to say aloud that this has nothing to do with us.
And deep inside us, we know it has everything to do with us.
Because we live in a world that is good, and beautiful, and deeply flawed.
The innocence of our birth, the integrity of creation, and the influence of the corruption in our world have mingled.
It is not possible to breathe the air that surrounds us and not to inhale the evil.
To begin Lent is to resist the toxins.
The prophet Isaiah tells us that acts of self-denial and expressions of piety are meaningless unless we turn toward God. Today’s Gospel lesson invites us to examine our sense of what is important in our lives. As we move into the Lenten season with its traditional focus on fasting, praying, and giving, we assess: What are we doing? Which of our practices are most congruous with our spiritual values? For whom are we doing these things? What are we seeking to gain?
If we pursue Lent as a cultural habit, without an internal turning toward God, the fasting, praying, and giving remain empty. When we recognize that the ashes mark the same place that our baptismal water cleansed, we can consider how we are living into our identity as children of God.
Lent is not about rushing toward a false spiritual positivity. Positivity is not the antidote.
Lent is about recognizing the pieces of our lives that have fallen down to ashes, and turning back to a spiritual path that will return us to life.
Every day, we each have choices to make: How we treat others. The language we use. The jokes we laugh at. The way we include or ignore people. The times we choose to stay angry and alienated, or the ways we work to forgive and show love.
There is a lightness in choosing to turn back to God.
Choose life. Resist the powers of death.
Choose love. Resist the power of apathy and hate.
Choose the way of Christ.