I woke disturbed Ash Wednesday morning because I had to work. Ever grateful for my job, I silently resented not being able to step away without accountability to a Noon Mass and The Imposition of Ashes. I feared that again I would have to miss the congregational awe of this service in Christian worship. I worked, taunted by capitalism, convicted by integrity, and burdened with accountability to my employer. To make matters worse, I had to work overtime to meet a deadline, thereby delaying my private ceremony of penitence. I felt resentful grumbling reverberating through every pore of my being. Again, between pleas and curses, I longed to work in full-time church ministry for which these moments are par for course and never to be missed again. I confess, I was not fully present at all that day at work, then...
Just as I stepped foot inside the door of home, still pouting and begrudging my fate, a friend informed me of a nighttime Ash Wednesday Mass at an Anglican church in downtown. My spirit soared and a within minutes I figured out how to get to the area, have a bite of dinner, and meet up with him to walk the next quarter mile to the church! In a moment, in an eyelash bat and shallow sigh, the gift of worship was given me. Oh, God, forgive my grumbling; and thank you Spirit for having me hear the opportunity to worship Ash Wednesday Mass, after all!
And, what a gift it was! This was no hurried, harried, holy ritual. No, this gift was High Church, with all of the pageantry, incense, bowing, crossing, chanting, kneeling, and singing. Oh. My. GOD! No only was I given an Ash Wednesday Mass, it was over two hours long -- longer than the regular old Sunday worship and just long enough to SELAH between living and dying anew! And so, with each breath, I settled into the place of being aware of my sinfulness until I was nestled in the comfort of the familiar of God's gift of forgiveness.
At some moment between resting in the peculiar joy of getting to come to Ash Wednesday Mass, after all, and exiting the church, I found myself no longer enumerating my sins and contemplating my fasts. Instead, my heart overflowed with gratitude!
As I sung choral responses from memory, I gave God thanks and praise for: Fuller Theological Seminary, All Saints Episcopal Church - Pasadena, my love of poetry, and my soul's love of music. As I listened intently to canonical and apocryphal readings, I rejoiced in being from a culture of orality, ability to hear and comprehend, predilection to imagine and embody, and exegetical knowledge and morphological nuance of the written and spoken words. As I knelt for prayer and received the Blessing/Sacrament, there was no known peace that compared to that moment of being in the presence of God, with the congregation of the saints, and all alone -- at the same time.
Thanks be to God. Amen.