I am sure you are all familiar with the expression “Spring Cleaning”? What you may not know is that the idea comes from an ancient Jewish tradition of searching and inspecting the house for ‘chametz’ – leaven – and cleaning or purging the house of all traces. You roll up the carpets and clean all the things that you wouldn’t usually clean. It isn’t a time to sweep stuff under the carpet and try and forget about it. It is a time to get our house in order properly and that is something we all recognise the need for.
But we don’t just get our physical house in order. We can also get our spiritual house in order. And there is no better time to engage in a bit of spring cleaning and getting our spiritual house in order than the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday marks the first day, or the start of that season of Lent. Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Here we are invited to do that through our Lent lunches with the Churches Together initiative. It is a time of sombre reflection but also a time to deepen our awareness and experience of God’s grace.
You get some idea of that from our reading from Psalm 51 which for me probably captures the essence of Lent and Ash Wednesday:
- Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.
- Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
- Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
- The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise
I love how the Psalmist is imploring God to do what he himself is unable to…to wash, purge and make clean because he recognises his own poverty of spirit. We all need to know a poverty of spirit. If you have never engaged in any Lent reflections, try spending some time reading that Psalm slowly and allowing it to speak into your life and inform your prayers as you keep one eye on our destination…Easter.
And we do this so we might be reconciled, to God and to one another. No wonder Paul says in our second reading “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” because now is the day of salvation. Through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit we are saved, being saved and will be saved. We must strive to live our lives as Easter people, in the light and knowledge of Christ’s death, resurrection and exaltation. We can only do that in God’s grace and with integrity.
In this we need to be honest with ourselves…when you come forward for the imposition of ashes, it may seem like a small or insignificant thing. A marking of the cross on our foreheads. But tonight I invite you to reflect on the significance of taking up that cross, to know that God’s revelation of himself in the incarnation of Jesus is enough…Jesus’ sacrifice is enough…nothing further is required. As that cross is made on your forehead know that you are forgiven and that you are being entreated to be real with God and with yourself. You are being entreated to be reconciled to God and to know his love, and his grace and mercy.
As we journey through Lent together, let’s try and get our houses in order and ask God to wash us, purge us and make us clean. Amen