Thirty-two days ago, we gathered in the church to observe the annual beginning of Lent through the Ash Wednesday liturgy. It is a solemn service that begins with a collect that says:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
There are some tough challenges here: “Create and make in us new and contrite hearts…”; “…worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness…” (yeah, wretchedness… decidedly not a feel-good term.)
Then I invited everyone… the Dear People of God… 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.
And so our Lenten journey began. Over the last 32 days, there have been four Wednesdays when we have gathered for worship and a meal, and on two of those Wednesdays we have walked the Stations of the Cross.
The Stations are a sort of mini-pilgrimage through significant events in the Passion of Jesus. It seems that they may have been around, in some form, as early as the 5th century, but they have definitely been formed and practiced since the 15th century. Their intention, obviously, is to remind us of what God has done for us through the sacrifice of Jesus. We are reminded of our indebtedness to that fact that, even though we are sinners, God freely bestows his forgiveness and love when we come to him with those contrite hearts that we heard about on Ash Wednesday.
But I was reminded the other day during a conversation with a parishioner, that there is a subtle snare in concentrating on the ‘things done and left undone’ during the Lenten season… indeed in all of the seasons of the year. It is possible to (1) get stuck in sinfulness and forget what’s Christ’s sacrifice did for us; (2) rejoice in forgiveness and stop there; and (3) forget that our hearts must be as thankful as they are contrite.
On one of the Lenten Wednesdays we read Compline (BCP 127) and A Litany of Thanksgiving (BCP 836). I admit to some selfish motivation, because I needed that litany to remind me of all the wonderful people and wonderful things that abound around us, even in the midst of so much loss. And thereafter, the words of the parishioner made me realize that I have one more invitation to issue as our Lenten journey is drawing to a close.
Dear People of God: I also invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a thankful Lent, remembering the gifts and blessings that we may overlook or take for granted.
It might be helpful to know what the parishioner said. He was recounting a little plaque that he saw in a shop he had visited. It said: Think, for just a moment, about waking up tomorrow morning with only the things you said ‘thank you’ for today.