Lent is an invitation into holiness. But surely, we are able to access it at any time. After all, as the Bible tells us in the very first chapter, we are made in the image of God. And The Reverend Doyt often reminds us that, “We are eternal beings.” Ancient theologians like Saint Ephrem the Syrian and Cyril of Jerusalem go as far as calling all of us who follow Jesus, ordinary people like me and all of us who bring you this Lenten offering– they call us “Christ-bearers.”
If this is our identity, why then is it so hard to find holiness? Even though we were made to be a holy priesthood, it seems like we often forget. As we look around on Ash Wednesday, we see a world in which we have divided ourselves by race and class and gender so that some can hoard power by pushing others down. We see a world in which, instead of caring for creation, we are destroying it at an increasingly rapid pace. And we turn the focus inwards, into ourselves, we see that we have not loved God. We have not loved our neighbors. We have not loved ourselves.
“Enough,” you say. “We get it. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And in the meantime, we fail again and again. Take our confessions and go.”
But there must be more to it than this. Are we not in the Kingdom of God? We have been given a hand in the creation of this Kingdom–there must be more purpose in penitence on Ash Wednesday than a depressing reminder of our fraught existence as sinners. How can this austere day serve instead as a reminder to find holiness through our shared identity in Christ?
When we dig deeper, we might find that penitence reminds us of our identity through an invitation to transformation.
But wait, how is our identity, which sounds fixed and unchanging, remembered through transformation, which sounds dynamic and unpredictable?
That’s not a contradiction. That’s a dialectic, one that might be a little hard to imagine when we open the season with the fixed and final image of ash.
When we here at Epiphany Seattle first started to plan for this Lenten offering, we asked ourselves: What if we looked at different Christian traditions to explore this Christ-bearing dialectic?
One tradition we brought into the mix with our particular journeys to Epiphany is the Lebanese Maronite Church, for whom the season Lent does not begin with Ash Wednesday, but with the Sunday before, which they call Cana Sunday. On this day, our siblings in Christ remember the first of the signs of Jesus: the transformation of water into wine for a wedding feast.
In a reflection on Cana Sunday, Theresa Simon writes, “Lent is a journey and like the water being transformed into wine we are called to transformation and repentance…Wine is a symbol of Jewish Torah. At the Wedding of Cana we see that [the Law] is not going to be sufficient for the guests. Jesus came to transform the law and eventually he will pour out his own blood to transform us…
Jesus asks the servants to get water in the jars kept for the purification rite. The water is then turned to wine and nobody knows how it happens. Jesus then asks the servants to serve the wine to the guests. In the Mass the bread turns into the body of Christ and the wine turns into the blood of Christ. It is part of the mystery of the Eucharist. This is a foreshadowing of what we will witness at the end of…Lent, the pouring out of the cleansing wine on the cross and the glorious resurrection.”
Today, we want to reflect on this imagery of water and wine as well. Through this miracle, we can see that the purpose of penitence is not merely to remind us of our sins. Instead, through confession, restitution, and reconciliation, it is an opportunity for transformation that allows us to access holiness anew.
We see this each time we prepare the Eucharist. We ask God to sanctify the bread and wine, transforming it into the Body and Blood of Christ. And each time, we ask God to sanctify us also. We too are made holy in the transformation.
In the next five weeks, we will be exploring this transformation with a fresh perspective on Church time. During this pandemic, our liturgy does not feel quite the same. How do we go through the cycles without our postures and our places and our people? How can we find holiness without our patterns? It’s all so different from what we’re used to, but this difference also reminds us that holy time is alive and dynamic, never calling us to rehearse the same old rituals year in and year out, like some kind of pantomime. We can always find new ways of understanding our traditions. Sacred time is sacred because it renews us.
That’s what we’ll be exploring in these coming weeks. Every Wednesday will be an invitation to holiness, gently nudging us to rethink what we know about the Church and its traditions, from the perspective of young adults in the parish and around the diocese. We want to see, in a new light, the transformation that we all need right now. The transformation that will help us remember our common identity in Christ, to listen to the genuine in each of us, and to find the holiness that has been there all along.
Text by Lauren Wearsch and Jad Baaklini.
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