The Gift and the Grace of Lent

IMG_1386Ash Wednesday Reflection by Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae

February 10, 2016

 

My Lenten journey started this morning when I couldn’t find the ladder.

I looked all around the building, even in the shed outside, and behind the furnaces in the furnace room.

No ladder.

So I called one of our deacons who was coming to help set the Sanctuary up for Ash Wednesday and she brought a ladder.

We switched out the cloth hanging behind the altar, and the curtains up front.

But, as one project often leads to another, soon we were back in the Deacon’s closet, pulling out boxes and things from time gone by, some still useful, some which had outlived their usefulness.

The church mice have found a home in the Deacon’s closet, and we found evidence of their habitation in the chewed candles from old Advent wreaths.

Apparently mice like wax.

There were some blankets that they had chewed, presumably to make nesting.

Together we disposed of these items and vacuumed the closet out.

In the midst of the detritus, we found some new curtains in a box, waiting, it seemed, to be hung in the Parlor.

And in the way that one project sometimes leads to another.

And in the way that two of us happened to have irons with us, and a ladder, we decided that maybe we should change out the curtains too, just to freshen things up a bit.

And as we were doing this, preparing our church for the change of liturgical seasons, I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem, Making the House Ready for the Lord.

Oliver says, “I have swept and washed, but still nothing is as shiny as it should be for you.”

As I begin Lent, I feel that way.

Tonight in the Prayer of Confession, we admitted that nothing is as shiny as it could be for you O God.

I know that there are ways I could live my life differently, treat people with more kindness and respect, practice patience, listen first before talking. Spend more time in prayer.

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our finitude. We come from dust and we return to dust.

On Ash Wednesday, we are also reminded of what God can do with dust.

For in the beginning it was God who breathed life into the dust.

And creation has been spinning on every since. But every once in awhile it is good to pause and remember where we came from, who created us, and why we are here.

I cherish these forty days and 6 Sundays of Lent. I value this season of preparation, penitence, reflection, and prayer.

My spirit needs renewal.

Tonight we pray, create in me a clean heart O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.

At its core, Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate or trying to be holier or more pious than the person next to us in the pew.

Lent is about taking time to make our hearts ready for the Lord again.

The Lord who fashioned us from the dust, and to who we will return to at the end of our days.

Friends, It is time to clean out the cobwebs, and sort through the mental and physical detritus that has accumulated since last year. It’s time to get rid of those behaviors and thoughts that keep us away from God, and see what surprises might be found in the process of making our hearts and homes ready for the Lord.

POEM

Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of miceit is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

As we make ourselves ready for the Lord in this season of Lent, may we be bold and humble enough to ask God to “come in”

To renew us, refresh us, and restore us.

For this is the gift and the grace of Lent.

February Reflections from the Pastor

 

Heart and crossDear Friends in Christ,
Every four years we add an extra day to February and call it a Leap Year. This leap ahead helps properly align our 365 day calendar with the earth’s rotation. To leap is to jump or spring a long way, to a great height, or with great force. Sometimes we leap quickly, sometimes spontaneously, other times with lots of advance planning. No matter how you leap, when you leap, or where you leap, it requires you to put your whole self into the action. This month I hope that you will take the time to leap into one of the many spiritual and congregational activities at church.

Leap into leadership. RCC’s Annual Meeting on February 7 is our chance to affirm our church’s leadership for 2016, approve the budget, and discuss our church’s direction in the coming year. Lend your voice and your presence to this important meeting.

Leap into worship. On Ash Wednesday, February 10, Christians around the world are marked with ashes as a visceral symbol that reminds us of where we come from and where we return to at the end of life. When we are marked with ashes, we celebrate having a fresh start and a new way of living as we begin the forty days of Lent. This year I will again be offering Ashes To-Go from 4:00-6:00 pm in front of the Richmond Market. You will find me standing quietly outside the market with a sign saying “Ashes To Go.” Last year more than 30 people stopped and received ashes! If you prefer to receive your ashes inside, we will also have an Ash Wednesday Service at 7 pm in the Sanctuary.

Leap into study. Lent resources for the whole family including Heifer Lent activities and Still Speaking Lent Devotionals are available in the Parlor. In March, RCC will be part of a three week ecumenical Bible study series looking at gun violence through the lens of the Book of Micah. The Bible Study & Soup Supper will be hosted at Essex Center United Methodist Church.

Leap into love. Throughout the month, take time to notice God’s presence in your life and give thanks for your loving relationships. On February 14 (Valentine’s Day) we will have Intergenerational worship and celebrate God’s love through many creative avenues.
Leap into faith. As we ponder leaping in, here are some wise words from minister, writer and theologian William Sloane Coffin Jr., “It is terribly important to realize that the leap of faith is not so much a leap of thought as of action. For while in many matters it is first we must see then we will act; in matters of faith it is first we must do then we will know, first we will be and then we will see. One must, in short, dare to act wholeheartedly without absolute certainty,” (Credo, 2004).

Friends, may God be with us as we leap in.

~ Katelyn

December 2015 Reflections

Happy New Year!

“Wait, Katelyn, this isn’t accidentally your January newsletter column, is it?”

Friends, let me say it again, “Happy New Year!”

In the Christian calendar, Advent is the start of a new year. This can feel a little discombobulating as Christians, because we’re called to use Advent as a season of waiting and preparation but we are surrounded by a culture that leaps right from Thanksgiving to Christmas. So why should we celebrate Advent?

Advent is important for several reasons. It helps us teach our kids (and reminds adults) how to be patient and think of a different way to mark the days until Christmas. In Advent, we take four weeks to anticipate the coming of the Christ child. In worship we will mark each Sunday of Advent by lighting a new candle on the Advent wreath and celebrating the themes of the Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. Engaging in spiritual practices such as lighting Advent candles, opening Advent calendars, reading an Advent Devotional, and coming to church more regularly helps us draw closer to God during this season of preparation.

As we await Christ’s coming we are also reminded again of how the Advent story is not only the story of Christ’s birth, but the story of a great journey. In this story perhaps we can find truth which resonates with our own experiences. Like Mary and Joseph, sometimes we take physical journeys filled with less than ideal travel conditions. Mary traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey while pregnant! Sometimes like Elizabeth, who thought she was barren, we take emotional journeys. It may be that we have to wait a very long time for an angel to appear and tell us the good news. And sometimes, like the Magi waiting and searching the skies for a star to lead the way, we simply have to hope we will eventually receive directions to figure out where we are intended to go.

Friends, I invite you to embrace all of the richness and complexity of Advent as we start this new church year. Together may we wait, prepare, believe and proclaim that a light shines in the darkness of the bleak midwinter, and this light and love has the power to change the world!

May the God of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy infuse your hearts, your home, and our communities in this rich and full Advent season!

With Joy (and Happy New Year!),

Katelyn