Today is the official beginning of Lent, which is the forty days leading up to Easter (not including Sundays). During this season, many of us make the decision to give something up as we journey with Jesus to the Cross. It’s a small symbol of sacrifice as we, as the old song says, “survey the wonderous cross”. Many people choose to give up chocolate or social media. In the Catholic tradition, people give up meat during the season of Lent. Again, the idea is to sacrifice something that is important to you and in doing so, you can foster a deeper connection with Christ. It is a good and noble thing to embark on this journey.

To mark the beginning of the season, we celebrate what is known as Ash Wednesday. Many of you are aware that on this day, ashes are placed on your forehead or hand, and a pastor usually says these words to you, “From the dust you came and to the dust you shall return”. It is a humbling moment for a pastor as he or she utters these words to the people that they know and love. The idea behind this service is that for at least a moment in the busy-ness of life, we can stop and reflect on our mortality. Life is brief and the ashes are a reminder of this brevity, while also reminding us of the need to place our trust in God, who made us from the dust of the earth. It is a good and noble thing to take part in this service.

But this year at the First Baptist Church, we will not celebrate Ash Wednesday as we usually do. In part, this is due to the fact that it is not wise to be in close enough proximity to each other that I could put ashes on your forehead. An intimate service like this one requires a level of physicality that just isn’t possible right now. However, there is a deeper reason why I don’t think we need to observe Ash Wednesday this year. Honestly, in the midst of a global pandemic, where almost 500,000 people have died in the United States alone, I am very well aware of the reality that life is brief. I have friends who have died, unnecessarily early, as a result of COVID-19. Yes, I think we all know in a way that pains our hearts, “from the dust we came and to the dust we return”.

As so many of you could attest, we desperately need hope in this moment. We need joy in this moment. While the season of Lent is actually one of my favorite times of the year, I can’t shake the feeling that this year needs to be different. So, this year during the season of Lent, I am going to ask us to do something different. Rather than giving something up for Lent, I want to ask you to add something extra to your life.

Our church has created a Lenten Calendar, which gives us one thing to do each day over the next 40 days. These are not complicated tasks and the idea is not to burden you with one more thing in your already busy life. Instead, the calendar is intended to connect you on a deeper level with Jesus Christ. I hope that you will join us as we journey toward Easter. Taking five or ten minutes each day to fill your soul with goodness and grace, might just make this Lenten season the best one yet. I sure hope it will.

Grace and Peace,