From the Very Rev. Kristina Maulden
Ash Wednesday is just a few days away. We will be invited to come to church and have the cross traced on our foreheads once again. Those ashes will have been made from the burning of the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday. The hosannas of the prior year have become the sign of mortality for the next. These outward signs remind us to look inward. Look to the places where we have praised God in one moment and turned it all to ash the next. It is a time for turning.
This is not a new phenomenon. People of any age have struggled with this reality. We are inconsistent in our spiritual practices. We are uneven in our interactions with each other. So, early on, it became the custom of the Church to prepare for the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection with a season of penitence. The 40 days of Lent covers the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter. You may have noticed that this is more than 40 days! That is because the Sundays are not counted in the 40. Every Sunday, no matter what the season, is a celebration of resurrection. That is why we make the distinction of the Sundays in Lent, rather than the Sundays of Lent.
Why forty days? There are a number of reasons. For one, forty is a very significant number in the biblical record. In the flood story, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years before they entered into the land of promise. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted before he began his public ministry. 40 also signifies a lengthy period of time. 40 days is actually a good length of time to retrain ourselves into a new habit.
These 40 days give us the chance to follow Jesus’ journey into the desert. We need time to wrestle with our own temptations and weaknesses. And then, we turn back to God to be forgiven and restored. There is a beautiful parallel to our spiritual turning if we look at the sunflower. When the sunflower is growing and budding, the plant turns to the sun wherever it is on the horizon. Then, when it blooms, the flower perpetually faces East. We are not finished growing, budding, and flowering. It is a continual process in our lives. Something in us dies or dies back, and we have room for new growth. We nurture that new spiritual growth by following the Spirit, the leading of God, the warmth of Jesus, wherever we find it. Then, when those buds open up, we know better how to continually turn to our spiritual East – we are open and vulnerable facing in the direction of God.
That is the ideal. However, there are times when we forget to look East and to the one born under that eastern star. Our hearts turn away from the source of all life. Maybe we turn away just a little. Maybe we turn completely and face the other direction. The light is still there-God is still present and sending us warmth and light. But God continues to call us to turn. Lift our heads and our hearts back to direct sunlight. Shift our orientation. God stirs us down to our roots. God is all about protecting and nurturing all our beginnings. This is the season of Lent.