A Season of Preparation

I come to you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit.

My name is Jacqueline WayneGuite. I’ve been a parishioner at All Saints for about five years, and I’m really honored to be preaching today, on Ash Wednesday.

Today is the beginning of Lent, a season of preparation. One we’re told to fill with fasting, generosity, repentance. We prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s ultimate act of redemption and forgiveness. This act is an act of pure love that heals us from our sins. Today, Ash Wednesday, offers us a moment to reflect on how we will prepare and who we want to be as members of the body of Christ. Ash Wednesday also reminds us of our own mortality, perhaps heightened this year in the midst of a global pandemic. We have a limited amount of time on Earth. How do we want to spend it? And so I invite you to reflect with me on this coming Lenten season and the preparations we will make to receive God’s salvation. We need to ask ourselves, are we ready to receive God’s love and healing? What roadblocks have we put up between ourselves and between God? We need to make space in our lives, in our hearts, and in our minds to receive that redemption and forgiveness.

For me, I know I need to take stock of my actions. My life needs more than a little reshaping to fully welcome Christ’s love. And we all know that our society needs deep transformation too to bring about the Kingdom of God for all people.

So what does a Lenten penitence look like in 2021? Many folks have a practice of “giving up” something like sweets or alcohol or meat during Lent. But this year, instead of defaulting to an easy or popular option, I’m asking myself to be more thoughtful. If we really think about who we want to be when Easter comes and how we want to change in the world, I wonder what purposeful steps we can take now to prepare ourselves. How can we prepare to receive God’s ultimate healing love and share that love with one another?

Love moves us to forgo that which is an obstacle. This year, we can think about the idea of Lenten fasting differently, giving up something that is an impediment for us. Maybe it’s social media, which can exacerbate anxiety for many people. Maybe you are prone to doom scrolling, mindlessly scrolling online through negative news articles and social media posts. Or social media causes you to compare yourself to the folks you follow, triggering feelings of self doubt, causing inaction and self hatred. Maybe it’s a certain TV show, perhaps one based on patriarchal ideas or that perpetuates racism and greed in our society. Maybe it’s an online shopping habit that fills your closet with cheap stuff, made by people who work in dangerous conditions and that are paid unfairly. Maybe it is a particular processed snack food that doesn’t nourish you, instead it gives you a stomach ache after you eat it.

And I want to be clear about “fasting,” God does not want you to suffer. God does not want you to hate yourself or your body. When I talk about fasting, it is about fasting from that which we don’t need. God loves you and your body just as it is.

We don’t fast to placate God. We don’t do it to make up for all the bad we did in the year before. And Jesus is clear—God is not interested in performative penitence. From the Gospel of Matthew: “Jesus said, ‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.’” Whatever we choose to forgo during Lent, Jesus tells us that it is a private practice to draw you into a deeper relationship with God, not something to brag or complain about publicly.

Lenten fasting is not fasting for its own sake. Hopefully your fast leaves room for something else—maybe a piece of fruit instead of that junk food, maybe more time to spend in prayer instead of your eyes glued to the TV, maybe money saved up that you can use to buy a piece of quality clothing where the maker was paid fair wages. Maybe a break from certain entertainments or pastimes will give you time to rest, plan, and organize your community to take action to combat social injustice.

God is looking for us to make real change in our own lives and in society. In today’s first reading from Isiah, we heard: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” God calls us to care for the vulnerable and marginalized in society, not just through individual actions, but a radical reimagining and transformation of our world. We must work together to rid the world of injustice, and fill it with actionable love.

In a little bit, we’ll say the Litany of Penitence. It’s actually one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, because it helps us examine our actions or lack of actions in a thoughtful and meaningful way. I like to sit with the words in quiet reflection later on my own, using each section to identify my sins. It’s not a comfortable process—in fact, it can be extremely difficult to look inward and admit to our sins. But by examining where our faults lie, we can face them, change, and by changing, grow closer to God.

This Lent, let us use this period to prepare ourselves for reconciliation with God. Jesus is always there for us, inviting us back into relationship, no matter how long it’s been or what we have done. God’s grace is immeasurable, and the Spirit is there to help us on our journey. God’s healing love will always be available to us, we just have to open ourselves to it. Amen.