Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Grant O Lord, that by the observance of this Holy Lent we may advance in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, and show forth his mind - in conduct worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey – 40 days. It is a journey that begins with a smudge – ashes on our foreheads and the words – remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

We just don’t talk like that in our society. We don’t want to talk about death or mortality. But that is what we do this day and everyday as we walk towards the cross. If we are honest, we know that to live into the mystery of Christ, is to live into the mystery of the cross.

Crux omnia probat - The cross tests everything. (Martin Luther) It does test everything – our beliefs, our hope, our lives. For in that cross is death and life, pain and hope.

I think of… The Way of Pain by Wendell Berry, 1980
For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.

I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at His grave, giving Him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.
Berry captures the mystery well and the notion that we too have to grieve, to stand by that cross, and know that desolation. It reminds me of a wisdom saying from the desert…
Abba Joseph related that Abba Isaac said, ‘I was sitting with Abba Poemen one day and I saw him in ecstasy and as I was on terms of great freedom of speech with him, I prostrated myself before him and begged him, saying, “Tell me where you were.” He was forced to answer and he said, “My thought was with St Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Abba Poemen 144)
So on this day, I want you to take a moment and think about the cross.

But not an empty cross. A cross with Jesus on it…

And you are there…

An excerpt from “The Crucifixion”
By James Weldon Johnson, 1927
On Calvary, on Calvary,
They crucified my Jesus.
They nailed him to the cruel tree,
And the hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.
The hammer!
The hammer!
The hammer!
Rang through Jerusalem's streets.

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands;
Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his feet.
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the Roman spear plunged in his side;
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.
Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Weeping Mary,
Sees her poor little Jesus on the cross.
Weeping Mary,
Sees her sweet, baby Jesus on the cruel cross,
Hanging between two thieves.

And Jesus, my lonesome Jesus,
Called out once more to his Father,
My God,
My God,
Why hast thou forsaken me?
And he drooped his head and died.

And the veil of the temple was split in two,
The midday sun refused to shine,
The thunder rumbled and the lightning wrote
An unknown language in the sky.
What a day! Lord, what a day!
When my blessed Jesus died.

Oh, I tremble, yes, I tremble,
It causes me to tremble, tremble,
When I think how Jesus died;
Died on the steps of Calvary,
How Jesus died for sinners,
Sinners like you and me.

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