From Ashes to Easter

We began Lent in the College just before Reading Week with Ash Wednesday, and the forty-day count began (Sundays are not counted in the days of Lent, being always a day of resurrection, although there are modifications to the Sundays in Lent in keeping with the season).  Beginning with ashes, we engage in days of reflection and a focus on repentance, meaning “change of heart.” This emphasis reminds us of the original development of this season as an intensified preparation for baptism where a candidate turned, began a new life, and lived a change of heart.

We are guided in this change of heart by the Ash Wednesday Gospel directive on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (recall: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21). For me, it is a question of what this season can inspire us to do. In what and where any one of us can have a change of heart, especially along the three areas outlined by the Gospel. In the parish, I often suggested simple efforts like making church attendance in these weeks of Lent a priority, taking time every day for prayer, considering a fast from extras (luxuries, conveniences that cost, or restaurant meals, and instead redirecting those resources). As well, reallocating our time: time for prayer, justice, mercy, compassion, and charity. Embracing our “change of heart” in this season can lead to developing Gospel habits such as better attendance at the daily prayer times in the Dio chapel, the sacrifice of leisure time to serve on a parish ministry, or reallocating our resources: the “discipline of Lent.” The ashes with which we were sprinkled mirror the phoenix rising up from the ashes as we rise up as disciples living the new life in Christ. These weeks can shape us into Easter people; people alive in Christ. From our studies, prayer, and engagements at the College, we “do” through our parish involvement, life in community at Dio, and deepening spiritual journey.

This time of Lent, is about formation. A poignant time for seminarians in formation for ministry. A pathway (to use a United Church term) of being Christ in ministry and guided by Jesus words in Matthew: prayer, fasting, almsgiving. The time at the College is a time of discernment and listening to the Spirit. The academics and learnings are the impulses which shape and form a vocational calling. These happen best amidst prayer, fasting from distractions and sharing.  It can be a difficult time when the Spirit challenges our pre-conceived notions or self-righteous inclinations. But, as the saints before us exemplify, it is a time for growth, rising up, renaissance. Admittedly, in the current worldly context, being formed and shaped by values such as justice, mercy, or love is not de rigueur but formation in Christ is the way of discipleship and the path for ministry. A part of the vocational calling is the calling to serve and to humbly walk with our God; exemplified by the saints we often commemorate, but more-so in the spiritual journey of preparation to be ministers of the Gospel. In like manner to the early church ministry of formation (the catechumenate) and the season developed for it, we go this path each year to renew and be born again as we move from ashes to Easter.  In our College Community, expressly to shape ourselves to Christ so we might be an agent of Grace and envoy of mercy.

Blesséd Lent. May these days be a change of heart and the doing of the Gospel.

This message was written by The Rev. Eric Dyck for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.