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|Ash Wednesday, February 22 to Sunday, February 26|
|Monday, February 27 to Sunday, March 4||Monday, March 19 to Sunday, March 25|
|Monday, March 5 to Sunday, March 11||Monday, March 26 to Palm/Passion Sunday, April 1|
|Monday, March 12 to Sunday, March 18||Holy Week: Monday, April 2 to Easter Sunday, April 8|
“Sound the alarm” (Joel 2:1). Declare an emergency. So begins the season of Lent. In Lent the church hears that things are not well, that much has gone wrong and that now is the time to face the trouble. In Lent Jesus says “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). In Lent the church enters into a forty day journey of catechesis, of formation in the way of God that it often forgets in favour of the ways of the world.
Again this year University Hill Congregation responds to the emergency that is sounded in Lent by listening each day for God’s Word in our time and place. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday there are forty seven days on which to read forty-seven texts. Forty seven hosts have each responded to the call to listen to a single text and to testify to the Word that they hear from God in it. The hosts are children and elders. Some have known the stories for a life time, others are very new to the faith. Each offers their humble witness as an invitation to you to join in hosting the text and listening for God in your own life as well as in our life together.
We are grateful to God for such a company of witnesses in such a time as this and pray for the courage to not only hear the alarm but to act accordingly.
Rev. Dr. Edwin Searcy
Ash Wednesday, February 22
Joel pulls the fire-alarm. He declares an emergency. He says that the LORD’s day is near and that, as things stand, it will be gloomy. I am not sure that this is what we have in mind when we ring the bell in the Chapel of the Epiphany on Sunday morning but I notice that the bell is an alarm that is rung on the Lord’s Day. When the bell rings the emergency is declared. The earthquake of God’s arrival is near. Which raises the question of holy earthquake preparedness, of our readiness to meet our Maker.
Maybe it is too late. Maybe our lives, our church, our world is too far gone. But, no. It is not too late. “Yet even now return to me with all your heart” says the LORD for God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”. There is time, here and now, to turn to a merciful God. It is not an easy thing for the church to admit that it is God’s own people who have wandered far from the way of the LORD. It will take an act of courage and of humility to admit the truth about our need of God and of our distance from God.
Joel pulls the fire alarm and says to find a gathering place and to include everyone: the aged, the children, infants at the breast as well as bride and bridegroom on their honeymoon. He says to sanctify a fast. In other words, to stop everything, to fast from compulsions and addictions. In a fast we seek to stop practicing strategies of distraction - be they sporting events, reality TV, shopping sprees, endless hours on the computer or ... well, you name it. Stop. Stop together as a community. Stop long enough to feel the pain that we have been avoiding, soothing, hiding, ignoring. Then let the ministers of the LORD, the worship elders, presiders, preachers and singers give us the words and songs and prayers to weep and cry to God: “Spare your people. Kyrie elesion. Lord, have mercy on us”.
Lent begins with an alarm bell. There is an emergency in our relationship with God. The time for repair and reconciliation is now. The healing begins with a hard decision to stop, to fast, to turn, to weep.
Spare your people, O LORD. Have mercy upon us. Amen.
Thursday, February 23
Jameson and I read through this text a few times. We noticed that it mentions being made clean through God's forgiveness four times. The day Jameson made this picture he was inspired by the more than 10cm of snow that came down and made everything bright with white snow.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of forgiveness and for your steadfast love and mercy. Amen.
Jameson & Janice Love
Friday, February 24
The Apostle Paul has always split Christians: some find him appealing, others appallingly conservative or even reactionary. Today something spectacular has even happened. Atheist philosophers like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek have written entire books on this thinker who still draws fire and spleen from the inheritors of the Mars Hill doubters of Paul. But in this passage, after surprising us with claims that in Christ all things have been made new, Paul tells the Corinthian church that they are “ambassadors for Christ. Really? We feeble, squabbling people? Yes, you says Paul—be reconciled to one another and get on with preaching the good news of the risen One. Fable to the unbeliever, joyous Word to us.
Paul tells them, once again, that God crossed over the great ditch by sending his son to die for our sins, our sloth, or greed, our running away into the far country. He reached over and picked us up by the scruff of the neck. Do you see how much I actually do love you? That I am the god who took on flesh to be one of you for you? Now, says Paul, is the “day of salvation.” Paul knows that some of the Corinthians have doubts about his authority. He didn’t hang out with Jesus like Peter and the other disciples. Paul doesn’t ever comment on Jesus’ parables or his miracles. He was simply struck down by the lightning flash of the risen One.
Paul, the apostle of bruises of blemishes, then sets out a string of afflictions and hardships he has suffering as an ambassador for the One who owned no property and had nowhere to lay his head. He has been in riots, he has been hungry, tossed into prison, been beaten, and spent many sleepless nights. He says he is still treated as an imposter. But he is alive and not yet killed; sorrowful yet joyful. Nothing whatsoever can stop him from proclaiming the story of the Amazing One.
Saturday, February 25
This text comes in the middle of what is referred to as Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Matthew is often described as the ‘teaching’ gospel because of its format. It is a good gospel to begin the catechetical process of training new disciples. The Sermon on the Mount, which includes chapters 5 through 7, is packed with the teachings of Jesus (rather than having them sprinkled throughout the gospel) and it packs a wallop. The Sermon on the Mount raises the bar with regard to the expectations for Jesus’ disciples… “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you, Love your enemies…” [5:43-45]. It is rich food for thought and action for all Christians, new and old.
Now as someone who is particularly interested in the catechetical process, the text I was given to host rubbed me the wrong way. After all, it is my belief that one of the best ways we all learn is by imitation – by watching what faithful others do and then practicing that until it becomes our own. This applies especially to children but also adults (I am a strong advocate for mentorships). The phrase, “monkey see, monkey do” might best sum this up as does one of my favorite photographs. Yet Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21 defies this.
Here we are instructed to go about our business - almsgiving, prayer, fasting – in secret, a word repeated six times in 12 verses. No one is to know what we are truly up to. Only then will our Father, who sees in and is in secret, will reward us (reward/treasure is repeated 10 times). The irony, of course, is that the intention of this teaching is intention itself. It is a catechesis, not in the practices themselves, but in motivation. Not only is what we do important but how we do it and for what reason.
To get to the heart of the matter, it is about where our heart is. This is not the emotive heart of our 21st century North American pop culture. Here heart combines both the mind/reason with our feelings to be something bigger than both – our will. Our heart here is about where we put our time, energy, passion, money. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
To what/who is our heart enthralled? I was intrigued to learn that “thrall” is an Old English word for “slave”. The question at the heart of this is what or who do we serve? Because serve we must - whether it be the finite and deathly ends of material goods, money, ourselves or the eternal ends of compassion in humility that come from a heart in love with God, who created us in the image of One who serves in steadfast love. Lent is a time to assess where our heart is and realign it if need be.
Have Your Way with me then, O God of steadfast love. I am Yours and You are mine.
Sunday, February 26
There is a reason this reflection has this title. Reading this passage would make you think that the favorite phrase of the Lord is “covenant”, or specifically, “my covenant”. Now, God did not speak of this covenant in a rosy-eyed, “everything is beautiful forever” mindset: He had just brought a devastating flood to the entire world for forty days and nights, blotting out, as God himself says, “every living thing from the face of the ground”. His hand, in a fit of displeasure with a world that had become wicked, had destroyed a large part of Creation, which He above all else wished to cherish and love. At this juncture, where the flood has ended and Noah, his family and all the animals he had managed to fit on the ark, are safely ashore, God speaks to them and he speaks of a covenant, that never again shall he bring such devastation to the world. He makes a point of mentioning the word covenant no less than seven times, underscoring its importance not only for us, but to God. This is the word of a deity that never breaks His promises, and he wants Noah, his family and all of the animals of the world to understand that. Never again, He says, will floods be commanded to cut off the flesh from the earth, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. Here, God does something very interesting: He sets His bow in the clouds, shining with a million colours, that will remind Him of the covenant He has made. This leads me to ask: is God a forgetful God? Did He place the bow there because He is afraid to forget the covenant he ardently spoke of to Noah? Was it more for Creation’s benefit, so that Noah, his family, and all the animals, who, unlike God, exist in a discrete time, can understand the power of the covenant He made with them? Was it a literary mistake of a writer who projected upon God the fallibilities of humanity? On the surface, these questions have an easy answer, but more deeply, they peer into questions of God’s nature, answers for which we have not yet clearly found.
And give us the vision, the wisdom, the strength, the will, and the courage, Lord, to walk under veils of uncertainty, keeping close to heart the eternal covenants You have made with us, your children, covenants which forevermore shall never be broken. Amen.