10th February 2016
Ash Wednesday
Matthew chapter 6 verses 1 – 6, 16 – 21
with Maggie Cogan – Reader

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable to you on Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The Jewish Hasidic tradition teaches that everyone should have two pockets in their coats with two slips of paper. One slip says: “I am only dust and ashes” The other “For me the whole universe was created”

Perhaps we need to remember about that first slip of paper– and as we have done in the past– and will do tonight – we come to be marked with the ashes of repentance. And perhaps we also need to remember the second slip of paper that we have been adopted by God in Christ – that through him God forgives us – and makes us joint heirs with Christ of all that has been made. This also we will do tonight as we receive the sacrament of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus when we receive the bread and the wine.

Sorrow and joy – repentance and forgiveness
Humility and joyful confidence— Fasting and Feasting,
These are the things around which our life in Christ revolve these are the things that need to speak to one another in our hearts and our minds and our souls the things that the Holy Spirit seeks to animate within us as she fulfils her role of both convicting and comforting us and leading us in holiness and righteousness

And never more so in Lent the season in which we are especially called to remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross the season in which we are specially called to prepare ourselves for both his death and his resurrection, knowing as we do so that as we die with him – so also we will rise with him.

Tonight is the beginning of the season of Lent, the beginning of the season in which we are called to a holy fast and to a contemplation of the mystery of our faith – that mystery summed up in the words

Christ has died,
Christ has risen
Christ will come again.

And in the words:

“I am only dust and ashes.”
“For me the whole universe was created.”

As we embrace both these statements this evening,
– As we have both sorrow over our sins and joy over our salvation,
– As we are marked with the ashes of mortality and repentance and eat the bread of forgiveness and drink the wine of eternal life
– As we humble ourselves to live as lowly servants and hear in joy we are the beloved children of God,

We are called to a holy fast and a holy feast in each of the days of this season a fast in which we rend our hearts and not our garments, one in which we act as ambassadors for Christ and allow God to make his appeal through us to the world.

One of the great traps of feasting and fasting is that the outward behaviours can easily be adopted without the appropriate inner motive. This is something that the prophets pointed out to the Jewish people a number of times. In Isaiah 58:6-7, the prophet reminds Israel that the fasting that God requires is “to loose the bonds of injustice and undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not, share your bread with the hungry and to bring the homeless poor into your house when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide away from your own kin?”
Lent is traditionally a time of fasting. There are many spiritual benefits to fasting. It reminds us of our frailty and our need of God. It puts us in a position to remember that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
We have forgotten how to feast because we have forgotten how to fast. “We live in a culture that revels in feasting, and not just on holidays. With so many food options available at all times, whether through supermarkets or the multitude of restaurants, it’s rare that the average Westerners experiences true hunger.
When Easter eggs and hot cross buns start to be sold in January just after the Christmas decorations have been cleared from the shops, it really undermines our capacity to feast properly when Easter Sunday arrives. But not if Lent has been spent in fasting, eating simply. After 40 days of moderate eating a moderate amount of rich food is a feast, without having to go the extremes of gluttony. “For fasting to be truly effective, it must be joined by its companion: feasting.
Fast from worry, and feast on divine order by trusting in God.
Fast from complaining, and feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives, and feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures, and feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility, and feast on tenderness.
Fast from bitterness, and feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern, and feast on compassion for others.

Fast from idle gossip, and feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from judging others, and feast on the Christ within them.

Fast from emphasis on differences, and feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness, and feast on the reality of light.

Fast from thoughts of illness, and feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute, and feast on the phrases that purify
Fast from discontent, and feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger, and feast on optimism.
Fast from personal anxiety, and feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement, and feast on hope.

Fast from thoughts that weaken, and feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from problems that overwhelm and feast on prayer that undergirds

Or in the words concerning fasting by St. John Chrysostom, words concerning holy living and the fasts that we observe to help make us more holy:

“Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see a poor man, take pity on him.
If you see a friend being honoured, do not envy him.

Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being free of greed.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast of this season with love and humility
Amen.