A Devotion for Ash Wednesday

Lent is a time in the church calendar to step back, reflect, contemplate, and be still. In our busy world of constant noise, stress, and worries we need not only time each day to pray and listen to God, but we also need extended time. The season of Lent is this time.

For activists, stillness is a challenge. We want to do, go, engage, and “do justice.” It’s helpful to remember that even taking a sabbath is an abolitionist act. Only free people can stop to rest and reflect.

During the Lenten season, we begin on Ash Wednesday by acknowledging that we are finite, mortal, our bodies destined to become dust. Our wealth, possessions, bodies, and intellect someday will cease to be. Both our joys and sufferings will end. What matters? Not these things.

As we move into and through Lent we pray, fast, listen, lament, and study the Word. We realign with what really matters: being one with God through Jesus. We recenter. We recalibrate.

Lent ends with Holy Week when we reflect on and remember Jesus who became one of us to suffer and die. We lean into the suffering. We center on Jesus.

Think about these things: 

Jesus came out of the triumph of his baptism and immediately disengaged. This is counter-cultural. His baptism is the great beginning. An amazing affirmation. Why retreat?

It looks like disengagement to us, but it is an engagement of a different sort. Jesus is spending time with the Father. He is gathering the strength needed for the task at hand. He is also battling with our adversary, making clear that he is not to be deterred from the mission of God.

This is the theology of Lent. We cannot do what needs to be done on our own strength. We need to prioritize time with the Father daily, weekly, and seasonably. Martin Luther said: “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” We need to rest in God in order to be effective in our work with and for God.

Once Jesus is filled up and calibrated, he returns with power. Note how often the Spirit is referred to in this scripture. The Spirit is our guide and gives us the power to both rest and work.  “. . . he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

Rested, calibrated, and filled up with power, Jesus comes out of the wilderness with proclamations and action. The mission of God can now be accomplished.

If Jesus needs a Lenten season to prepare, who are we to think we don’t need a similar time? Hannah Whitehall Smith in the God of All Comfort wrote:

“It is a fact that we see what we look at, and cannot see what we look away from; and we cannot look unto Jesus while we are looking at ourselves. The power for victory and the power for endurance are to come from looking unto Jesus and considering Him, not from looking unto or considering ourselves, or our circumstances, or our sins, or our temptations. Looking at ourselves causes weakness and defeat. The reason for this is that when we look at ourselves, we see nothing but ourselves, and our own weakness, and poverty, and sin; we do not and cannot see the remedy and the supply for these, and as a matter, of course, we are defeated. The remedy and the supply are there all the time, but they are not to be found in the place where we are looking, for they are not in self but in Christ; and we cannot be looking at ourselves and looking at Christ at the same time.”

This Lenten season may we look at Jesus and rest in him and may God fill us up and ready us for the action that comes with the resurrection once Lent is over. 

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