ASH WEDNESDAY

Jonah 3:1-4:11
Hebrews 12:1-14
Luke 18:9-14

A few years ago, I attempted to write a reflection for each day in the season of Lent. I failed miserably. I ended up apologizing for missing days and eventually gave up the idea.

I’m retired now and shouldn’t have that problem. I hope this is the discipline that keeps me engaged. What else have I got to do?

My plan is to use the two-year lectionary cycle, which is the same one my devotional follows. That way, it will be easy to do my daily readings and then reflect on one of the assigned lessons for the day. I’ll provide links for the scripture passages in case you want to read them as well. Just click on the passages above.

Many church congregations create devotionals as a Lenten project. I’ll try to grab one or two and browse through them to see what folks are thinking. They are fascinating to read.

When I was in the parish preparing a devotional was one of our Lenten activities. For me, it was fun. For the parishioners, it was a different story. They struggled with the lessons, trying to make sense out of them. However, at the end of the exercise, many of them were grateful for having made the effort. It was a learning experience that for some, helped open them to new ways of seeing the Word of God. It was a joy for them to be able to make connections with the Bible and their daily life, somewhat like that proverbial light bulb going on in the head.

The reading from Hebrews talks about discipline. “Endure trials for the sake of discipline,” the author writes. In many ways, that is what Lent is – a discipline. And goodness knows that in these times of pandemic, when life as we knew it has been upended, we can all benefit from a good dose of discipline.

The reading begins with the image of a race, “…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

Sports analogies best illustrate the necessity of discipline. In order to sharpen any skill, one must practice. What better time is there, then, to begin to sharpen a skill than Lent? It’s also a fortuitous coincidence that tomorrow, February 18, the Cleveland Baseball Team’s pitchers and catchers report for the start of Spring Training.

Cleveland is one of 30 teams that, each year, head off to warmer places to begin training for a season that they hope will bring a championship to their respective city. Eight months later, all but one will be disappointed. No matter how hard each team tries, no matter how many hours they put in on the field, in the batting cage, watching videotape, only one will receive the reward.

For the other 29, there’s always the next year, and the next, and the next. If you are a Cleveland baseball fan, you take comfort and consolation in the fact that you came close a few years ago, but you just have to go out every season and try harder.

One of my favorite authors is the Benedictine nun, Sr. Joan Chittister. In her book, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir, she suggests that one mistake we often make is to accept perfection as our standard or goal. When we imagine that we will never fail, failure hits hardest. Perfection is an oppressive standard, and no Christian this side of heaven will ever reach it: “The problem, of course, is that we fail. We know ourselves to be weak. We stumble along, being less than we can be, never living up to our own standards, let alone anyone else’s.” [p. 195]

The good news of the gospel is that God does not discard anyone, even if they finish last. Even though we may end up miserable failures. To quote Chittister again: “God knows exactly who we are. God knows our frailty. And God accepts it. And gathers it in. God loves us, not in spite of it, but because of it, because of the effort it implies and the trust it demands.”

And as the writer of Hebrews states: “…discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 

So, like the athlete who will go out today and begin his training regimen, like the baseball players who hope for a title sometime in October, I’m hoping I can be consistent in my daily writing. But if not, I know that you and I are forgiven by a God who loves us, and despite our imperfection, will not let us lose hope, because our journey of 40 days will take us to the cross, and the glory of God’s unending grace!

† † †

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

4 thoughts on “ASH WEDNESDAY

    1. Clarence,
      I still follow the Pirates and have been quite sad at how far they’ve fallen. They will always be my favorite team. Thanks for reading my posts. I will try to make your reading worthwhile.
      Peace!

      Like

  1. Padre Abraham,

    Thank you for guiding us through the Lenten season. I look forward to your daily thoughts. (I also appreciate a good sports analogy.) A good friend who is a Passionist Brother, once told us to aim for “Progress, not perfection.” Peace!

    Like

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