St. Margaret’s Church, Happy Valley
Joel 2: 12-18
Psalm 51: Be Merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned!
2 Cor. 5: 20-5:2
Matt. 6: 1-6, 16-18
“When you give alms… when you pray… when you fast…”
For those of us who drive cars, most have us have had the experience of getting lost, of losing our way – of course this was before the invention of GPS. We would be driving and then suddenly miss a turn, or make a wrong turn, followed by another wrong turn a few kilometers later and suddenly we find ourselves utterly lost, driving in circles, desperately looking for a sign to a route that would help us to get our bearings and find our route again.
The same is true for for our life as Christians and disciples of the Lord. We often need to find a sign or a direction that will guide us back to an honest following of the Lord. Lent is that sign, that compass for us.
If you can think back for a moment to the story of creation in the Book of Genesis. Remember when God was looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? What did he ask? “Adam and Eve, where are you?” During this season of Lent, God is asking each of us the same question. “Where are you?” “Where are you morally and spiritually?” For us then, this season of lent is a special time of grace in the life of the Church. It is a time when we face hard questions and hopefully come to honest answers.
In our first reading, the prophet Joel called his community to penance, and his call reminds us that we are now entering a season not only as individuals but also as a community and a Church. We are entering this time not just wherever we are hearing this Mass, but also joined to our brothers and sisters – those at home, those in quarantine, those away from family members, those sick, those alone, those feeling forgotten or lost. The challenges from the prophet hopefully will help us to raise questions about our own relationship to the Lord and help us to respond to God’s initiative honestly.
In addressing the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds them that they – like us – often put off the hard work of reconciliation until another day, but even when that other day comes, we continue to postpone reconciliation. But what if tomorrow never comes for us? The ashes we traditionally receive on Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality. Today is the day to hear the hard questions God asks of us, and today is the day to start to respond honestly to Him.
And in our Gospel we are reminded of the three ancient paths we can use in Lent, as we face the hard questions from the Lord, and seek ways of responding honestly. We are reminded to give alms – to help those in need; we are reminded to pray – not just for our own needs but for the needs of all around us; and we are encouraged to fast, and to detach ourselves from useless or harmful consumption in order to concentrate more on God.
Our resolutions to give alms, to pray and to fast can easily go the way of ashes, dramatically imposed but quickly wiped off or washed away. Perhaps we can use each Friday in Lent to pray the Stations of the Cross alone at home or in a church, if possible. We can use each Sunday in Lent to renew our resolutions of giving alms, praying and fasting – and even strengthen these in our life.
Lent is not just about less calories, symbolic penances and extra prayers. It is about “temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement.” It is about recovering the right path, finding the right direction back to God. It is about hearing and facing hard questions we all need to hear, and giving the honest answers we need to give to restore our call as disciples of the Lord.
Celebrant: The sign of blessed ashes invites us to respond to the God who calls us to come back to him with all our heart. Though we cannot receive these physically this year, spiritually our season of lent begins today. Our prayers enrich the charity and faith of this penitential season.
READER: For all members of the holy Church as they repent and do penance in this chosen time, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For the will to discipline ourselves by fasting and self-denial, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For generosity to the poor and the oppressed by practical almsgiving, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: For a return to the sacrament of absolution and reconciliation, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER For all in our community during this difficult time of the CODIV-19 virus, those at home, those in quarantine, those serving and ministering to others in the health sector, for our elderly and ill, for all in civil service and society caring for our needs(Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: God of mercy and compassion, look upon the petitions of penitent people. As we pray for grace at this time, let us not forget the needs of others. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. (all) AMEN.