And so we begin… <3


Yesterday Russ and I were able to attend the Ash Wednesday service at St. Paul’s over the noon hour. If you are looking for a weekly service during the season of Lent, they do have them every Wednesday at noon (this is an informal one around a served lunch in the fellowship hall) and 6:30 pm in their sanctuary (following a fellowship dinner at 5:30.)

The atmosphere of the entire service was one of an awareness of our finite and fallen nature firmly undergirded by God’s grace, forgiveness and gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. I know we are often aware of our sinful selfishness and pride issues, but I don’t often reflect on the idea that I will one day no longer be living in this body I have inhabited for almost 65 years.

I need to be reminded of this.

I want to share with you a summary of the message delivered to us by Pastor Bill Grueninger. It was very helpful to me to put into words the significance of observing Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter Sunday. 

I am noting all of this in italics as they are a paraphrase of his words and not my own ideas. I am emphasizing the word “practice” as it encompasses why the repetition of certain themes throughout the year in our church settings is important:

Ash Wednesday reminds us to purposefully practice NOT being significant. All of the messages of the world are about us finding our purpose and significance. But we are not. We are temporal. There was a time when we were not, and there will be a time when we no longer are. All the things we think are so important will pass away, as will we. 

Ash Wednesday and Lent are a season where we practice the things we should do to remember that we are not eternal and we are not holy without God. We, by nature are dust and we are sinful. But through the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ and by God’s love, mercy and grace; we are forgiven and we are given eternal life in Him. 

All the church calendar is geared towards helping us remember and practice the things we should be doing in response to this great gift of love. 

We get better at anything by practice: sports, music, education, skills, crafts…all are improved through practicing. And so we practice waiting during Advent, we practice joy during Christmas and Epiphany, and we practice confession and repentance during Lent.

It is purposeful and intentional reflection on our finite nature, our weakness to change anything within or without, our sins of commission and omission. And it is fully receiving God’s forgiveness and restoration. 

Using Joel 2: 12-17 we see a model of how we practice confession and repentance: 

“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” (12)

So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. And He relents from doing harm. (13)

Who knows if He will turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him – a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? (14)

Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes, let the bridegroom go out from his chamber and the bride from her dressing room. (15-16)

Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nation should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (17)

Joel 2: 12-17 NKJV

The lessons are clear:

Verse 12 – this is an emotional state, with fasting and weeping and deep sorrow of honest repentance we return to our God

Verse 13 – this is not only an external response but an internal as we tear our hearts open to be bare before God

Verse 14 – we are met with love and forgiveness when we repent before God and so part of this season includes practicing receiving the grace, forgiveness and blessing of our Father

Verse 15-16 – this season of repentance is done in community. As the Body of Christ, we are coming to Him together. You are not alone in your repentance. We repent in unity with others who are practicing this season of purposeful reflection, confession, repentance and forgiveness. 

Verse 17 – We turn then and pray for others; for our community that we live in and for the world. Praying prayers over others through intercession. 

These words of Pastor Grueninger were helpful to me to put a framework of understanding around this season we are entering into. 

I think a stand out idea for me was that we do this in community, which is what this whole “Journey Onward” is about. We definitely each walk out our own faith journey, but we do so walking alongside others. 

As we look around our current season of life, it is important to recognize who God has given us to walk alongside us on the way. Our fellow travelers for a given time will be the ones who refine us, who we refine, who encourage us, challenge us, touch our hearts, sometimes bruise us…so many things, but they are with us for a reason and we are sharing the road as we journey. 

The other thing that impressed me was receiving forgiveness. I am pretty good at beating myself up, so the idea of returning to God with my repentance and then receiving His love and forgiveness is pretty amazing.

This is a journey of both sorrow for sin and weakness and JOY in the strength of God to forgive and restore and strengthen us. I pray in our Journey through Lent that you and I will grow closer to God, more filled with grace and mercy for others and more like Jesus.


So grab your backpacks and a thermos of water (and maybe a Yeti for your coffee) and let’s do this thing.


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