I write to you just a little perplexed as we approach Lent, holding up the pain and hope around us. What shall I say to you in preparation for Lent when we have been in what seems like a long and never-ending Lent? We have all given up on so much.
Many of you have lost loved ones due to COVID or other reasons. The pain is all the more challenging when we are not saying goodbyes by their bedside and giving them a proper funeral. All this has been hard to bear. The gravity of losing over 2.25 million people worldwide and 460 thousand people in the US to COVID is staggering. We will grieve these unprecedented losses over the months and years. Many of us have endured these, along with other losses like jobs, food, financial stability, relationships, and more. In the midst of all this, scripture encourages us to stay close to God—Christ in you, the hope of glory Colossians 1:27. Such hope is manifest in the memories and kindnesses shown by loved ones through our congregations and strangers.
I remind you also of the hope that the vaccines are here and that they will indeed help us get to a better place, along with all the other precautions we have now ritualized. We will all get vaccinated before too long. Please hold the media’s attention regarding the variant gently. Added anxiety about that doesn't help us take the next couple of constructive steps towards staying safe and getting vaccinated. Congratulations to those who are getting vaccinated. The vaccines have one thing in common. They reduce hospitalization and prevent death. Let's focus on that clarity. So, this Lent, let us take our sorrows and our hopes together patiently. As followers of Christ, we cannot but embrace both. We do so with the sure hope that we are on our way out of this fog together. I remind you of the African proverb that goes, “if you wish to travel fast, walk alone, but if you wish to travel far, walk together.”
For this Ash Wednesday, we have recommended an ancient but new engagement of ashes. Bishop Neil Alexander, former Dean of Sewanee and resigned Bishop of Atlanta, has provided a timely reminder about an ancient practice of the church. An alternative to the traditional “imposition of Ashes” helps us observe a holy lent at home or in short and safe services—an abridged liturgy was sent to you and is attached. Thanks to Dean Billy Daniel, we are delivering ashes and sackcloth bags for every church. I invite you to join the Diocesan Liturgy on Ash Wednesday at 7 PM. We will lift Rev. Absalom Jones; the first African American ordained a priest in the Episcopal church 202 years ago! Our preacher at this liturgy will be Rev. Nita Byrd, Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Engagement at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Let us gather and kick off our Lenten journey of lament for the marks of the sin of racism embedded in our culture.
Friends, let us be safe, keep each other safe, reach out to sick friends and neighbors, lament for various breakdowns, and thus observe a holy Lent!