The past 11 months of pandemic seems like one incredibly long Lent, Bishop Hughes notes – but one that also has had much restoration, with prayer, contemplation, self-evaluation and turning to God. This Ash Wednesday, she reframes the invitation to a holy Lent as an invitation to take even deeper what we have been experiencing in our spiritual lives during this time. (Time: 4:24.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark, and Lent has begun. It seems such an odd thing this year, because there are no ashes being imposed in train stations across northern New Jersey or on street corners or on front steps of our downtown parishes. We will not gather in churches tonight to receive ashes, but we will gather online, or with our friends on the phone, or with our family around the table, and we will say the prayers and the Psalms and hear the invitation to a holy Lent the way we do every year.
It seems odd also because Lent last year coincided with the beginning of pandemic. And while we did have celebrations throughout the year – Easter, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, the start of school, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany – all throughout have been incredible tragedies and sorrow. There are many who have been very ill or who have died. And we have mourned them from a distance. And for some we still wait for their memorial services or funerals to take place, even as we gather around their families from a distance.
It seems in some way like one incredibly long Lent. I want us to reframe that a little bit though, because there has been much that has happened about restoration. And while Lent is a time of dedicating ourselves to God through prayers and fasting, through repentance – turning away from other things, turning away from distractions from God, or from sinfulness, and back to God – self-evaluation, contemplation. These things that remind us how important our relationship is to God – that also happened over this last year. And so this year, with an invitation to a holy Lent, it's an invitation to take even deeper what we have been experiencing in our spiritual life over the last 11 months.
I also want to invite you with that invitation, to think about who in your household, who in your church, who in the community, who in this country and who in the world – who of the people of God, those beloved people that God has created – not all of whom believe in God or go to the same church that we do – but created by God and therefore beloved by God. Who of the people of God will you pray for? Who will you stand in solidarity besides? Who will you show care? Who will you give compassion? That as we dedicate ourselves to a holy Lent this year I invite you to dedicate yourself to loving the people of God the way god loves the people of God.
Take those words on page 265 in the Prayer Book: "I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self‑examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self‑denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word." Take those words to heart this year, and take them a step further. Take them into relationship with the people of God. Show them God's love, God's healing, God's restoration and God's compassion.
I invite you to a holy Lent.