In this time of chaos and confusion caused by COVID-19 and, most recently, by the dangerous winter weather conditions throughout Texas that have left many without power, heat and/or water, many find it difficult to know how to best move, much less move forward. In his annual message to the Central Texas Conference at the beginning of Lent, Bishop Lowry suggests that now is the time to quiet our hearts, to settle our minds, to place ourselves before Christ and in genuine deep believing submission, put ourselves before God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in prayer and embrace our Lenten journeys together.
Click on the player below or go to vimeo.com/512794288 to view Bishop Lowry's Message for Lent 2021 (a transcription of his message is also below).
Ash Wednesday is a time when I invite us to speak the Gospel intentionally into the human situation of our day and our time.
Think about it, we live in a time of a COVID-19 pandemic. We live in a season of chaos – both in the streets of our cities but also in our own hearts and minds. We live in a time of confusion where we are unsure of how best to move and go forward, with who to believe and agree. We are unsure of how to relate to and engage with others on a personal level, but also on a much wider scale in our cities, state, nation, and yes, even our world. We know that this is an age of polarization a time of false certainty. William Butler Yeats’ famous poem The Second Coming speaks to it in the first stanza.
“…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
It is here, amid our own passionate intensity, that I invite us as a people of faith, as followers of Christ, to come and kneel before the altar of the Lord at the beginning of the season of Lent in the ancient liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The famous words which go with the imposition of the ashes, regardless of whether one is Protestant or Catholic, are the words “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Truly, the ancient speaks anew to us this day.
I love the way the Common English Bible translates the word “Repent” as “Change your heart and lives.” It’s here that I believe the Gospel can speak to each and every one of us – to each and every church, to each and every community – as well as to our wider state, nation and world communities that we live in. Let this be a season not governed by chaos and confusion, but draped in humility and reflection, and bathed in prayer.
Now more than ever, it’s time to quiet our hearts, to settle our minds, to place ourselves before Christ and in genuine deep believing submission. The time is now to put ourselves before God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
I invite us to a Lenten discipline, which, if not unique, is certainly rare in our day and time. A discipline of thoughtful prayer, of deep personal reflection. I also urge you into a sense of a humility that seeks to understand the best in others. We are to be Christ followers. It is in this beginning of Lent and in the ancient ceremony of Ash Wednesday that we’re invited to place the Gospel anew in our lives and in our society.
Take into the essence of your being the words of Jesus as he himself instructed his followers. Do you remember the story out of Matthew 16 where they confess the faith in Christ – who He is, “You’re the Christ,” says Peter, “the son of the Living God?” Then we see that strange interchange after Jesus says “…you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” Matthew 16 21-23 CEB
It’s here, with a radically different kind of thinking that the ancient becomes new again in the chaos and confusion of our day. It’s here that once again the Lord speaks to us a word of humility, of suffering and of service. It is here that we are invited at the start of Lent into a journey that will take us to the cross and beyond. Let the word of Jesus guide you at the start of this season.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Matthew 16 24-25 CEB
This, my friends, is not just the word of God, it is the very way of God. May your Lent and my Lent and our Lents together be journeys to the cross. May they be journeys that take the Gospel and the ancient words of Repent and Believe and lay them into the present situation of our lives with a change of heart and mind. May we follow Jesus not just to the cross but to the hope and joy beyond.
The Lord is with you.