by Karen Treat

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.  Psalm 23: 4

As I write this I am coming up on Ash Wednesday.

I made a very bold move and asked if I could preach this year.  On Ash Wednesday.  A big day in the church where I am a leader. I am not sure what I was thinking.  I am part of a large congregation and I really hadn’t thought through what I was going to experience writing and preaching.  The pressure to give the right message.  Forgetting about the Spirit’s leading in it all.

I looked at the text and pondered on it for a good week.

I did my usual exegetical work and looked at one of my favorite contemporary theologian, Dr. Karoline Lewis at Luther Seminary.  Dr. Lewis is a preaching professor and in her reflection on Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, she told us preachers that we better be doing Lent if we are going to preach it.  It wasn’t a bossy instruction, but a nudge to experience what it is that Lent brings to us.  This season.

There it was.  The Spirit.  It wasn’t about my writing but about what God wanted to be heard.  For the congregation and for me.

As I wrote my sermon I began to internalize what my Lent would be this year.  I know these forty days reflect Jesus suffering death.  We ponder about that story, Jesus dying for the sake of the world.

I also know that for some Lent is a time to fast or to take away something that brings pleasure and may not be good for us.  Just for this short time.  As if to experience what Jesus did his forty days in the wilderness.  I don’t really believe we can ever experience what Jesus did in the wilderness or on the cross but I have been known to give stuff up.  Pretty uneventful.

This year, I am just before the first year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  It’s a tender time being apart from her for 12 months.  The season feels more profound to me this year than last year when it was just days past her death.  I wonder if the depth I feel now is because I have experienced her death more fully.  The emptiness it brings to not have her here to share my joys and my sorrows.

On Ash Wednesday, we have a cross placed on our foreheads.  A cross that is made by the ashes of the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday service.  Lent begins with this cross.  A cross that represents both death and resurrection.  Out of brokenness comes new life.  Out of pain comes celebration.

This season, in the shadow of death, I am going to live into resurrection.  That’s the gift I pray this season brings to me.   Realizing the resurrection that is today, and living in the hope of what is to come.   I don’t know what that will look like, I can only wait and see.

Thanks be to God.