Many of us recognize and appreciate the gift Carol possesses with words. She uniquely uses words to tell a story, to invite us into prayer, and to spark theological wondering. Her words at the beginning of our Ash Wednesday service were in keeping with these things, but I was struck by how beautiful and harsh the Lenten invitation must sound. The invitation into the Lenten journey is beautiful because life is beautiful—to acknowledge our mortality is to face the fullness of our being and the mystery of existence. But the invitation into the Lenten journey is also harsh—the reality is not that it will be easy, nor that we will be able to always endure alone. The truth is that it, whether Lent or life itself, will be hard and that we can make it. The promise of Ash Wednesday is that we will each die; the hope contained is that God loves us before and beyond our return to dust.
I have been thinking a lot about the people we love at Highland who are experiencing death as Lent begins. It is one thing to bear the mark of ash on your forehead on Wednesday. It is another to find that the burden of grief and the pain of loss are much more enduring. In my thinking about those who are grieving, and in struggling with my own difficulties, I must tell you I have had a hard time praying at times. I have struggled to sing the lines of hymns whose comfort I long for but cannot feel.
I remember, though, learning under Dr. Frank Tupper in graduate school, that in the Gospel of Mark we find that even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane. My yearning and struggle, and yours if you have found yourself in it, too, identify us more closely with Jesus and do not distance us from Him. Our Lenten commitment to journey together is a commitment each day to acting as if we really believe God is made known in how we love one another. And though the Lenten promises are not always easy, and though we must each confront that our bodies are imperfect and temporary, in loving one another we will be reminded again and again that we are never alone.