Tuesday night, in spite of a cold drizzle, we gathered around a fire pit out on the Elm St. porch. Wes had set up the porch earlier in the day, a kind Trinity neighbor wheeled over a pile of wood all the way around the block, Karl got the porch heaters going, I started the fire, our middle school youth group wrote messages to contribute. As the flames took, others of you arrived with sweet treats to share, greeting one another with smiles and introductions. Then we stood around the fire and we prayed together—We prayed for the world; for the people of Ukraine, for the wounded, for the grieving, for all children, for refugees, for peace, for us and our loved ones, and for this community. With each petition, we cast the dried palm branches from last year into the fire—their pungent scent rising with our prayers. We did this together.
As we prepared for the desert journey of Lent, we gathered around a fire as desert dwellers have done since the beginning of time. This communal aspect of Lent is sometimes missing in our thinking and in our practice. We often approach Lent with our own sins in mind, and some of the words of this season are intended to encourage us to repent, to turn back to God. On Ash Wednesday, you may have received the mark of the cross in ashes on your forehead, reminding you that “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It feels personal and private, and in some ways it is. Lent is a time for reflecting on our lives, really looking in the mirror to face where we have strayed from those things that are good and honorable and true; and how we have moved away from God, relying too much on the devices and desires of our own hungers and pride. Yes, we have this gift of Lent to focus on ourselves and our relationship to the one who created us from the dust of the earth and will claim us there again. AND Lent is a time for community. When we gathered around that fire, we prayed and prepared the ashes, and we shared food and laughter as well as lament. The journey of Lent, that walk in the desert is to be shared.
Lent is a time for reflecting on our lives, and we are blessed to do that in this community of Trinity. None of us journeys alone, not even when we know ourselves to be in a desert time, a desert place. Whether we enter a desert space intentionally as a spiritual practice of Lent, or we are thrown into a dry desert, season by doubts or grief, illness or turmoil, however alone we feel, we are never alone. When we cry out to God for mercy, forgiveness, in lament or in thanksgiving, our voices join with the prayers of all who live and all who have lived, for Christ has made us one in his Body…One by and through his death and resurrection to new life. So let us be thankful for this fellowship today, for this fellowship in Lent.
You may have seen the NYT piece last Monday in which Margaret Renkl, wrote about not feeling able to share in Ash Wednesday this year. She is an Episcopalian, and said she no longer goes to church even though she loves the traditions. The turmoil and changes in “covidtide” as well as ways the Church falls short have caused her to stay home. She writes of meeting God in nature, a solitary walk in the woods, the call of a bird. We all love nature and nature is one of the ways we connect with God. This piece from Renkl made me quite sad, because I don’t believe loving nature, replaces being in community. Why can’t we do both? To be outside, feel connected to the earth from which we were made, with the sun that gives warmth and life on our heads; we need that; we need to enjoy it and give thanks to God for all Creation. And we need one another. Right from the beginning in Genesis, God told the “Adam,” the human created from the earth “It is not good for the Adam to be alone.” We were created for relationships… So my call to you this Lent is to do both! Be outside and worship together.
The 40 days of Lent—46 if you count the Sundays is a microcosm of life and faith. Sometimes we are in a desert, and when it is cold we need to gather with others around a fire. So this year, this Lent, when it is finally safer to do so, let us gather in prayer through these 46 days...on Sundays, on Wednesdays, and in the final walk to the Cross in Holy Week. Let us gather around God’s table to be fed with Christ’s body AS Christ’s Body--for strength, for communion, for the reminder that we belong to each other and we belong to God, together.