Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Feb. 22, 2023

Posted by on Wed, Feb 22, 2023 in Lent, Sermons

Ash Wednesday

Feb. 22, 2023

As you just heard, today we are invited into Lent, here and now, body and soul. The Prayerbook phrases this as an invitation and does so only this day and for the Easter Vigil; 

“…the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.”

Lent is more than a season which comes up on our calendars, it is an invitation we must respond to in order to fully participate. Here in the Northwest we are notorious for our neglect or failure to ‘RSVP’ to invitations. I think the reverse is true about this Lenten invitation; people of faith turn towards the voice which invites us, wanting to show up for this Lenten season. Today we have come to respond  to the invitation, to say yes

Lent cannot be done to us, or like the seasons of winter and spring which will come upon us whether we agree to it or not. This season requires our acceptance of this extraordinary invitation, otherwise we’re just marking time or or watching the pilgrims pass by.

From Joel we heard, 

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, 
    slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…

Having accepted the invitation we usually start asking ourselves — what we ought to give up or take on this year, how will we good observant Episcopalians get through Lent? This starts the question from the wrong place! Instead, might we ask how might Lent get through to me?

It is not a time for self-loathing or shaming, it is not about fixing ourselves because God thinks we are a mistake or judges us unworthy of his love. Second century Greek theologian Irenaeus said, “What God creates, God loves; and what God loves, God loves everlastingly.” This is love which invites us closer in Lent, seeks to draw us deeper into a life lived in Christ and one which bears the mark of his hand upon us. In Baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own with Oil of Chrism in a cross on our foreheads. Today we will bear the mark of that cross upon our heads made in the ashes of mortality. 

In accepting this invitation to a holy Lent and taking up these practices, we open ourselves and invite God into our deepest places to continue creating us. And all Creation reveals the One who formed it.

Irenaeus also wrote what for me characterizes well the Lenten purpose and devotions;

“Offer to God your heart in a soft and tractable state… lest, by becoming hardened, you lose the impressions of His fingers.” For “the moist clay which is in you is hidden there by the workmanship of God.” 

Several years ago I backpacked through a forest with a great variety of trees, both deciduous and evergreen. Above me was a mosaic canopy in infinite shades and patterns of green and my footfall softened by pine needles and moss. A year later there was a fire in that area and it was closed. When it reopened I returned and was heartsick at the devastation. It was ashy grey and sooty black, those beautiful woods decimated and the path through them was somber, I felt grief and disappointment. I didn’t return for another two years. When I did I was reminded that burning isn’t always about death. Rain had sunk some of the ash and sootiness into the soil, thin wisps of green ferns and undergrowth were emerging, occasional tiny volunteer trees could be seen if I stood still and looked hard. That burning to ash was not all about death, ir was also about renewal and return to life.

Jesus tells us to give, pray, and fast ‘in secret’ because it is not about being seen and admired to do these things. He says that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” It seems a near impossible task given social media, trackers, etc. Walking through that forest in the early stages of rebirth, regrowth, I realized that all that had been going on ‘in secret’ beneath the surface, hidden deep in the soil and ash. 

Many of us know there are trees which cannot reseed without the heat of fire to open cones or pods. I’ve also learned that there are plants which are able to flower prolifically after a fire. Some can remain buried in the ground for decades until a wildfire awakens them. Some bloom simultaneously within weeks after being burned, creating lush and colorful landscapes of flowers. To my surprise, many fire lilies can only flower after fires, one species doing so a mere nine days following a fire! Can we imagine such a thing happening deep within our human selves of dust during these next forty days? Does new life arise from the ashes in colorful ways so vivid and compelling that they soon cannot be hidden?

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The ashes we’ll use today are a reminder of how fragile this mortal life is and how we are so lovingly created. Certainly we know we will all die one day, so today we need also remember that our earthly dusty ashy death is not our end.


© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 12:00 PM on Sat., Feb. 22, 2025.