Ash Wednesday

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2Cor 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

February 14, 2018

I come to you in the name of one holy and living God.

         In a few minutes we are going to pray the Litany of Penitence.  It makes sense, right?  It’s Ash Wednesday, and we’re entering into Lent – a time to re-examine our relationship with God, to look at how we are living into our faith as well as living out our faith in this world. 

         If you’ve attended an Ash Wednesday service before, you’ve prayed the Litany.  Having grown up in the Episcopal Church, I have prayed it many times, yet this year, it’s words jumped out at me in a way they never have before.  Of course I expected the beginning… “We confess to you…that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed,” but this time we actually say, “We confess to you and to one another, and to the whole communion of saints.”  That…THAT is powerful!!  We are not doing this by ourselves.  We are not hiding, alone and ashamed of our faults and transgressions.  We are standing together – all of us here, all of those who pray this day and all of those who have passed from this life.  We do not need to hide or hang our heads low in shame.  We all make mistakes, and we all sin, and yet God loves us beyond measure.  Yes, do we need to own our sins and work on ways to improve ourselves – YES, we do, AND we must remember that stand together as a community of believers who know they are loved by God, so that we can share that message with others.  God is not about shame.  God is about love!

         When we pray the Litany of Penitence in a few minutes, I invite you to see which one strikes deepest in your soul. There may be more than one, but choose one.  Possibly the one to which you responded, “Oh my gosh, I do that.”  I invite you to hold on to that realization and pray about it.[1]

         God already knows, but by you recognizing it and intentionally taking it on, God rejoices.  Pray about it…ask God for help with that part of your life, and God will respond.  We are all walking this journey together.  Shame does us no good.  It only isolates us from God and from each other.  As we pray the Litany together, listen to the words of each petition, AND listen to the voices of our congregation – our community responding together. 

         Before we pray the Litany, I will invite you forward for the imposition of ashes.  At that time, the sign of the cross will be drawn on your forehead using ash.  I know the cross sometimes ends looking more like a big smudge than a cross, but truly a cross will be made on your forehead. 

         Why is this important?  Ash Wednesday and Imposition of Ashes is not just about our eventual end.  Yes, Ash Wednesday is the first of the forty days of Lent, named for the custom of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshipers as sign of penitence and a reminder of our mortality, but it is so much more!

         This is also about life!  That cross – on our foreheads - reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, gave us life by sacrificing his own.  Yes, we are dust and we will return to dust, but by giving his life – giving everything he had, Jesus offered us love – unconditional love.  “That cross [reminds] us that nothing will separate us from the love of God.  We are dust, but we are God’s dust, and God brings life from dust.”[2] 

[1] The Right Reverend Dr. Douglas Fischer, Bishop of Western Massachusetts, All Saints Episcopal Church’s Ash Wednesday Service, 2015.

[2] The Right Reverend Dr. Douglas Fischer, Bishop of Western Massachusetts, All Saints Episcopal Church’s Ash Wednesday Service, 2015.


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