Dear Fathers, Brothers,Sisters in Christ,
Jesus said, "When you fast, you are not to look glum as the
hypocrites do. They change the appearance of their faces so
that others may see they are fasting. I assure you they have
already been repaid. When you fast, see to it that you groom
your hair and wash your face. In that way no one can see you
are fasting but your Father who is hidden and your Father who
sees what is hidden will repay you."
As we listen to the words of our Lord in today's Gospel I would
say that there is a bit of a paradox here. "Comb your hair and
wash your face." Just a few minutes ago I put ashes on the
foreheads of my parishioners and the question arises: why is it
that we would begin this Lenten season in this way? And what
grim words are spoken to us! "Remember, 0 man, that dust
thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The words, of
course, are taken from the third chapter of the Book of Genesis.
As our first parents were escorted out of the Garden of
Paradise, they heard these words: "By the sweat of your face
shall you get bread to eat until you return to the ground from
which you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall
return" (Genesis 3:19).
"Remember, 0 man, that thou art dust. . ." A rather grim and
gruesome thought. If we consider what dust is, blowing about, it
really means nothing. It's a symbol of nothingness. Dust. You
are dust. Consider all of the billions of people that have lived on
this planet. And God says, "You are dust." That is grim, very
grim. You are dust. You are nothing. If we were to hear those
words and that's all there was to this Lenten celebration today,
it would cause us to despair. Are we were to walk out of this
church and think God has spoken to us and has told us that we
are nothing? Is that all? Is that what this symbol of ashes on our
Or is there another symbol as well, a symbol that complements
those ashes? When I imposed those ashes on your foreheads,
how did I do it? In the sign of a cross. And that gives meaning to
the dust. That gives meaning to you and to me. We are dust,
but we are dust that has been redeemed.
Jesus our Lord. the Son of God, became dust. He became this
earth. He took up this human nature of ours. And that dust was
nailed to a cross. He died on that cross in order that you and I
might remember that we are dust; but that we are redeemed
dust. We are precious in the sight of the Lord. We are not
merely nothing. We are God's own, for He has made us so. In
the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul writes
this: "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells
in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will bring your
mortal bodies to life also through His Spirit dwelling in you"
(Romans 8:11).. The Spirit of God dwelling in us-in this dust -
will raise us to life.
It is to this end that you and I come together at the beginning of
this Lenten season, as we begin this journey from ashes to
Easter: that we truly might understand who we are and what
we are before God. Indeed, we are dust. Truly we are nothing.
But we are redeemed! We are a people for whom God has
poured out His life. Getting hold of that rather elusive notion is
what our Lenten work is all about. To help us do it, the Church
traditionally lays before us three specific activities to involve us
during the Lenten season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer is the vocal prayer that we offer. But we interpret the
idea of prayer even more widely. Prayer is also an attitude, a
mind-set. "Let this mind be in you that is also in Christ Jesus."
We are to have our thoughts and our minds turned toward God.
That's why the prophet Joel said, "Rend your hearts and not
your garments." For a Semite, the heart was the seat of all
understanding and thought. "Change your thinking," Joel is
saying. That is the attitude of prayer: realizing that we are
always in the presence of God, every waking moment of our
lives and even when we are sound asleep, God sustains us in
the palm of His hand. That is the attitude of prayer that we must
develop during the Lenten season.
Fasting. Of course, we fast during Lent. The one full meal per
day; abstaining from meat on the proper days. But even more
so, fasting means that we would abstain from that which
detracts from what should be our single-minded purpose of
drawing closer to our God. Whatever obstructs our relationship
with God, we abstain from it. It is ancient ascetic practice to
fast: to say no to things that are legitimate in order that we
might more easily say no to the things that are not legitimate;
namely, temptation to sin.
Thirdly, almsgiving. It means more than dropping the coin or the
bill in the basket. It means more than writing the check to
charity. All are well and good. But almsgiving is more than that.
Almsgiving is also an attitude of mind, where we are more
conscious of the fact that we are neighbors to one another, that
we are brothers and sisters in the Lord, and that we respond to
one another's needs. Whenever and however we do that, we
call it almsgiving.
The season before us is a beautiful one, a joyful one. It begins
with the paradox of Ash Wednesday, but it blossoms in forty
days in the celebration of Easter: new risen life in Christ, a life
already begun in us. As I marked my Parishioner with the sign
of the cross today, remember that each and every one of us has
already been marked in the same way at the beginning of our spiritual
life, in the waters of Baptism. There too with the sign of the
cross, words were spoken when we first received the very life of
God Himself. "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
This we want to understand more deeply during the Lenten
season. Our risen life doesn't wait until the end of the world. Our
risen life doesn't wait for Easter. Our risen life has already begun
Let this season be a time in which we become more and more
conscious of that wonderful fact. We are dust, but we are
redeemed dust; made so by Christ our risen Lord!
A Holy Lent,
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne