the penultimate WORD

Lenten Series: Ash Wednesday

 

Christian faith is tactile.

I have been mindful of this as Lent approaches. Reflecting on my sense of touch has brought me closer to Jesus. Let me explain.

The obvious illustrations of liturgical acts come to mind. Sacramental ministry demonstrates the veracity of this truth. The cupping of water at baptism, and the gentle pressure of the thumb to brow, the weight of the candidate in the crook of the arm. familiar examples familiar to us all. If we have not felt it, or if we cannot remember feeling it, we can recall witnessing the closeness so necessary for touch to be felt.

The dry smooth texture of the Host held and placed in waiting hands, beseeching and welcoming; the cold touch of metal to lips and the wetness of the Cup quenching thirst, perhaps the weight of the hand on head in blessing, all remind us of the closeness we share with one another when we meet Jesus.

And with the arrival of Lent, new experiences of touch reveal the intimacy of faith.

The brushing of palm ash to the forehead, reminding the penitent of limits of time and strength, bring us close to Jesus. The sackcloth has been set aside in favour of other fabric; but with the ash one reminds the other. we remind each other. of our limitations and our inherent brokenness. Beginning a Lent in embarrassment,  our weakness, we discover, becomes transformed in the very weakness we perceive nailed to a cross.  Having drawn close enough to Jesus, we discover strength.

Good touches, redemptive touches give assurance.

But my touch reaches beyond the worshipful. And so does yours.

Recall the touch of indifference of Pilate as hands wrung in water and responsibility drained away. And know that the avoidance of touch today enables us to avoid justice and truth.

Remember the kiss of betrayal that brought Judas sufficiently close to Jesus in darkened shadows. And know the betrayal of our touch today eroding the intimacy of our lives, leaving in its wake desolation and isolation.

Be mindful of the touch that might have been had Peter courage enough to leave a brazier in the cold night air and rescue Jesus.  The Master's penetrating look touched the very depths of him who would one day hold the keys to the Kingdom. And know the lack of touch and intervention, reflecting our negligence in a wanting world. For that we are less that we might otherwise have been.

That comprises our Lenten journey. It is a journey of faith.

A journey that leads us into holy places and out again.

It is a journey that nourishes us: a journey that graciously calls us to touch the lives of others and in the touching finds nourishment, redemption and reconciliation.

It is a transforming journey, the journey that we are on, together.

In our caring, in our weakness, we discover that our touch brings us close to God, and in our hesitancy, the very life of Jesus, whose grasp of life and love and nails restores us in the Paschal mystery.

 

Copyright 2000 James T. Irvine

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

Ashes to Easter | the penultimate WORD | 2000 Series | Lenten Series