Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent - a season for opening our hearts to meet God through repentance, fasting, and prayer. It also marks the beginning of our annual pilgrimage with Jesus, from Jerusalem to the cross.
Having grown up in the Catholic tradition, Ash Wednesday has always been familiar to me. Yet, over the years its meaning has continued to take on greater significance. As a youth, Ash Wednesday simply began the season of giving up something until Easter and when we couldn't eat meat on Fridays. Today, the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday serves to remind me that I am a sinner in desperate need of God's grace and to help me remember just how far God was willing to go to make his saving grace available to me, to all of us.
I imagine by now you might be asking, "What does this have to do with Luke chapter 9?" Well, I'm about to tell you.
I believe that each year's Lenten pilgrimage (when I attempt to follow Jesus on The Way to the Cross through prayer and fasting), helps to reveal the many ways I fall short at living like Christ, yet still manages to edge me closer toward becoming more fully who God created me to be.
And isn't that why we follow Jesus? Isn't that the point of discipleship? To live more like Jesus and become more fully who God made us to be? I think so, and Luke chapter 9 offers us some important words about what it means to follow Jesus.
Jesus was off praying by himself after feeding the five thousand and asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"
Peter replied, "The Messiah of God."
Then Jesus said this:
"It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the religious leaders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and on the third day be raised up alive.”
Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?"So, there it is. Jesus tells us that we are not to run from suffering. Instead, we embrace it. "Follow me," he says, and we'll learn how. The Jesus Way is the way of self-sacrifice and it is to be our way, too...so that we can discover who we really are and who we are called to be.
The forty days of Lent are a perfect opportunity for such discovery and it begins with humbling ourselves and carrying a cross of our own behind Jesus as he carries his.
Let us pray together using this prayer from Henri Nouwen.
Lent is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.