This is a Lenten e-mail that was forwarded to me that I would like to share with you.
Alumni, supporters and friends, Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent. Below is a meditation that I shared several years ago at Clemson UMC that shares some insights into the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent. May God be with you all as you begin your 40-day Lenten journey. Peace always, lane Rev. C. Lane Glaze Director - Clemson Wesley Foundation Campus Minister -
Ash Wednesday 2005 Ever since I was a little boy, I have always looked forward to Ash Wednesday. In some years, like this one, it sneaks up on us quickly, seeming to come right on the heels of Epiphany. But today is Ash Wednesday, the day that we mark the beginning of Lent, a 40 day season - excluding Sundays - of fasting and spiritual preparation for the greatest of all Christian holy days, Easter. I made the comment at the Ecumenical Service on campus this afternoon that Ash Wednesday has always been one of my favorite days, which is a really odd thing to claim. Odd because this is a day in which we focus on sin, death and the need for repentance - topics that most of us do not like to talk about. The reality is that many Christians avoid this day, maybe for the same reasons that they avoid receiving Holy Communion. Ash Wednesday is one of those days that we cut to the chase, that we don’t beat around the bush, and many of us get a little uncomfortable being reminded of our brokenness, our unworthiness, our mortality - maybe even our need for God. As Jesus says, the truth will indeed set us free…but sometimes the truth is also hard to swallow. For Christians, the 40 days of Lent are most directly connected to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after his baptism by John the Baptist. Throughout the Bible the number 40 is seen as a sufficient or perfected length of time. For Jesus to be fully prepared for his three years or so of ministry, he needed to spend 40 days fasting, praying and reflecting. Likewise, the Church has historically taught that for we as Christians to be fully prepared for the great Easter celebration, we too need to spend 40 days fasting, praying and reflecting on who we are, where we are, and where we are going in our lives. Strangely, the Bible tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Gospel of Mark puts it more forcefully, saying that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. Now if you are like me, the idea of God through the Holy Spirit pushing Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days with little to no provisions or shelter sounds weird and un-Godlike. Why would a good God do such a mean thing, we might ask? Our problem with this, however, incorrectly presupposes that being in the wilderness is a bad thing. Maybe, somehow in God’s wisdom and providence, 40 days in the wilderness is exactly what Jesus needed. Maybe, somehow in God’s wisdom and providence, 40 days in the wilderness is exactly what we need today. I promised myself as a teenager that I would never do or say some of the things that my parents did or said to me. And I would certainly never say, “This really hurts me more than it hurts you,” as my parents told me on a number of occasions. But, of course, what has happened? Anne and I sit around and laugh about how often we act and say things toward our two girls just like our parents used to do to us. Our girls often think that we are being mean or unfair to them. We know, though, having experienced life as an adolescent and teenager ourselves, that these are wilderness years for them. Because we love them, we must help them prepare – mentally, physically and spiritually – so that they will not only survive but thrive when the 40 days are over. I can remember going through several wilderness periods in business, wanting so badly to walk away and never look back. I was pushed, pressed, tempted and cajoled more than I ever thought I could be. When will the 40 days end, I would scream to God? In the middle of those times, I felt like I was in hell. But now, in hindsight, I can see how God worked through those difficult times to shape me, to mold me, to refine me. Today, I would not trade those wilderness experiences for anything in the world, because I know that I am a better husband, father and human being for having endured them. This Lent, what if we invited God to lead or drive us into the wilderness? Some of you probably feel as if you’re already there. But how might we spend the next 40 days - being tested, deprived and reproved - so that by the time Easter arrives we might truly be ready to live as Resurrection people? Historically, the Church has emphasized that we enter into the wilderness during Lent when we practice with more regularity four things: prayer, fasting, confession and almsgiving, all things that Jesus speaks of in this evening’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount. My challenge to you, and the same one that I am taking on myself, is to allow the Spirit to lead you into the practice of all four of these disciplines. At first, you will find it difficult to be faithful. You will be tempted and tested to give up. But in the end, I believe that God will bless your faithfulnes. I believe that you will end these 40 days spiritually stronger, healthier and prepared for the challenges ahead. The first practice is prayer. But rather than praying as you always do, I encourage you to pray in a different way, in a different place, at a different time of the day, or using a different posture than you are accustomed to. The second practice is fasting. But rather than fasting from soda or chocolate during Lent, I encourage you to fast from doing or partaking of those things that aren’t healthy for your body, your marriage, your family life or your soul. Consider fasting from watching TV, from gossiping about others, from drinking or smoking, or from being a negative person. The third practice is confession. But rather than coming to me to confess your sins as some of you do, make a practice during Lent of confessing your sins to your spouse, to your best friend, to your ex-spouse, to your family, your employees, or your children. Who are those people that need your forgiveness? Whose forgiveness do you need? Use Lent as a time to heal wounds and division that should have been addressed years ago. The last practice is almsgiving. But rather than throwing a few extra coins or bills in the offering plate, help those in your workplace, your neighborhood, your Sunday School class, even in your family or extended family who are struggling. Do not make a big deal about it, and, if at all possible, do it anonymously, as Jesus instructs us. Adopting all four of these ancient disciplines and trying to fulfill them daily will not be easy. But as we deprive ourselves, as we get honest with our own sin, as we begin to focus on the will of God more than our own, I know that God will bless us. And I believe that 40 days later we will find ourselves closer to the people that God created us to be - people who humbly and graciously love others just as God, through Jesus Christ, has loved us. In closing, most people believe that Jesus was at his weakest and most feeble after 40 days of deprivation in the wilderness. True, he may have been physically weak, but spiritually, I know that he was ready to conquer the world - not by force, but by love. May the season of Lent this year be a time of challenge, a time of testing and a time of tremendous growth for you and for this community of believers called Clemson UMC.