Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

Before computers and electronic scanners it was quite common for a business to yearly set apart a few days, usually in January, to take inventory. During that time they closed the shop in order to check both the goods they had on hand and what they needed to obtain. It was a process that included every employee so that when the business reopened, all would know exactly how the company was doing.

It seems fair to consider Lent as a kind of inventory. We slow down not just for a few days but for six weeks to take account of our lives. Where we have been excessive – partying, perhaps – we want to slow down. Where we may have fallen short – maybe in praying or caring for the needy – we endeavor to make up for lost time. In the epistle today St. Paul pleads with the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God.” That is, they are to settle their accounts, as it were, with the Lord by asking forgiveness for their sins and redoubling efforts to live in accord with Christ’s grace.

“But six weeks is a mighty long inventory,” some might object. True, but we should not pretend that Lent is really a business operation. It is even more like a long retreat in the desert where we come to know the mercy of God as the Israelis did after the Exodus. It is meant to give us a new beginning each year, not in the sense that we go back to where we started from, but that we grow from the best that we were in the past by correcting mistakes and trying harder. It is coming to realize at least a bit more how we have been made members of God’s family with full rights of inheritance to eternal life.