For what does your spirit long tonight? What inside you feels incomplete, fragile, unworthy, lonely? Do you ever try to satisfy that longing? Chances are, you do try to fill it. Because the ache of the emptiness, our wholeness is very painful…
So often, though, the things with which we try to fill the emptiness, to quell the loneliness—alcohol, food, drugs, excessive spending, excessive scheduling—only satisfy for a moment. After we have consumed whatever it is we think will make us whole, we find that the emptiness hasn’t been filled as we had hoped, but rather has grown larger. Which means filling that now, filling the emptiness will take even more—more alcohol, more food, more drugs, more spending, more scheduling…It becomes a vicious cycle.
Lent is the church’s way of helping us to identify the cycle, slow it down for six weeks, long enough to consider whether all these things we’re consuming, all the things we’re doing, truly are satisfying our deepest longings.
And Ash Wednesday helps us clear out the clutter so we can do that reflection.
Psalm 51 is attributed to David after committing adultery with Bathsheba. On the roof of his house, watching Bathsheba bathe, David thought possessing Bathsheba would fill his emptiness, quell his loneliness. But it didn’t.
In fact, once the deed was done, he plotted to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed. What in the moment seemed like it would satisfy all his desires—possessing Bathsheba—in the end only led to greater emptiness. And greater sins.
When David’s sins were pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan, David finally realized what he had done. Filled with remorse, the story goes, he wrote this psalm asking God’s forgiveness, pleading for a clean heart, confessing his deepest desire: truth in his inmost being.
Because that deep-down-to-the-core-of-who-he-was honesty—THAT is what would save him. THAT is what his soul really longed for. THAT is what would make him whole.
For what does your soul long tonight? For what does your spirit ache? What are you doing to try to meet those needs? Is it working?
The invitation tonight is to reflect on what your soul is longing for… and all the things you’ve done to try to satisfy that longing. As you come to receive the imposition of ashes, I invite you to see it not so much as a guilt thing or a depressing thing…I invite you to see it as a new beginning, starting over, hitting the reset button. I also invite you to take a piece of broken glass. Take it home and let it remind you of your brokenness, your longing to be made whole. Each Sunday during Lent, we’ll be working with broken glass in some way. Feel free to keep your shard at home or to bring it back here to church. Or do both.
I wrote the words we’re singing tonight last year. The tune, of course, is WONDROUS LOVE. The hymn we traditionally sing to the tune is “What Wondrous Love Is This.” I selected this tune to remind us that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far we have wandered away from our truest selves, always, always, we are surrounded by and held in God’s wondrous love.
As the piano plays, I invite you into a time of quiet, honest reflection. And as you receive the ashes with their reminder of the frailty—the brokenness–of all human living, know that God has loved you, loves you now, will always love you and more than anything else, hopes for your wholeness.