Benediction Online

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Heart of Compassion

Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Psalm 103:8-14

Welcome to our spiritual fitness program!

For the next forty days we will have the opportunity to tone our spiritual muscles, both as individuals and as a parish.

We often think about Lent as a time when we give something up, when we make some kind of sacrifice. Sacrifice in Christianity, as in Judaism, means the offering of life. Its greatest example is Jesus’ offering for us on the cross. The central way we commemorate this is in our offering of the Eucharist, a corporate offering of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.

In baptism, each of us is joined to the Body of Christ, the royal priesthood who offer the sacrifice, the life-offering of the Savior. We make this offering through Jesus for the world, in all its reality: for the homeless, refugees, those starving to death, those terrified by war and civil war, and even the rich living hopeless lives of denial and indulgence. In short, in the Eucharist, we get involved with the reality of life as it is.

Lent is not just a time for self-reflection and deeper spiritual discipline, traditionally symbolized by fasting and abstinence; it is also a time for flexing the spiritual muscle of compassion. Compassion is at the core of the spiritual life. As we grow in compassion we let go of the self-absorption that paralyses us. As we turn our eyes away from ourselves in compassionate service to others so we live the Eucharistic life of Christ.

That is why the Episcopal Church keeps Lent as a special time of focus on the needs of the world. Our daily reflections are provided by the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund which provides a practical way that we can help those in need, by supporting the ministry of Anglican churches and others who work to bring practical assistance in the name of Christ. Our Thursday evening soup supper discussions will focus on the larger picture of the planet and ecological awareness.

Compassion breaks us open as we begin to see the world through God’s eyes. And so it leads us to long for a deeper simplicity which will generate a broader generosity. This is not just an exercise for Lent but a call to a renewal of life; life lived as the compassionate children of God, life lived in the Eucharistic practice of offering our lives in the service of the world.

The gospel today reminds us that the smudge of ashes on our foreheads may either be a boast, or it may be a sign to us and to others that this Lent will be about more than giving up chocolate; it will be a time when God’s redeeming work transforms each one of us and our church community.

So may it be.


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