Ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to the front of the room where the rector will point out some of the safety features of this seminary chapel.
A safety information card may be found in the seat pockets beside you, please take a few moments to review the information in this card.
There are seven emergency exits located in this seminary chapel, one at the front of the chapel, one at the rear and five on the side.
Please take a moment to locate the exit nearest you, remembering that the nearest exit may be behind you.
In the event of an emergency, one of our flight attendants will direct you to the nearest exit.
To fasten your seatbelt …
In the unlikely event of a water landing …
In the unlikely event of a change in chapel pressure …
This is a non smoking chapel …
Perhaps I have been flying too much lately.
I often feel a little sorry for the poor flight attendants who go through the motions on every flight. No one ever reviews the safety information cards, people will not power off their portable electronic devices. Seat backs remain in their forlorn reclining positions. There seems to be a pervasive attitude among airline customers that, none of the rules of flying really apply to me.
I often think of Ash Wednesday as a kind of airplane safety announcement. Every time we begin our flight on the friendly Lenten skies, we get the admonition: Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.
We hear the words of the prophet:
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
We get the lecture from Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel:
Pray, give alms, fast.
Do not let you left hand know what your right is doing.
We have heard all of this before. We have been here before. We have experienced this before and like a spiritual déjà vu we shake it off, deciding instead to pursue the Sky Mall magazine which we feel free to take with us as we deplane because you never know when you are going to have a hankering for a set of pet stairs or an inflatable palm tree.
What is Lent in the popular imagination? I propose that it is an unheeded season.
What you are giving up for Lent?
OK how can I get out of that?
What are the laws that govern these practices?
Liver sales drop precipitously, candy stock is depleted on Wall Street, fifteen varieties of Iranian beer are consigned to a refrigerated nether world.
Trumpets are blows, faces are besmirched with the dirt of resentment, room doors are flung open to display the flagrant acts of asceticism taking place within.
We commit ourselves to our good works
We submit our robust flesh to the whiplash of PX 39
We strive to be the biggest losers
And in all of this unheard of sacrifice and heroic neglect of self, what happens?
Nothing of course
And all of this is accompanied by the rhetoric and cadences of a spiritual Jansenism, let us weep, let us fall, let us mourn, let us wail.
Was it always so with Lent?
In the early Church, Lent was the season of the catechumenate. It was an adult season, a season of discovery and wonder that led the catechumens out of the Egypt of sin into the bright promise of a heavenly Jerusalem. It was a season of conversion and it still is for those men and women bouncing toward beatitude in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
What if we could join the journey of our lives and our attitudes toward Lent with theirs?
I wonder what it would be like if we all received the creed anew each year, if we all received the Lord’s prayer with fresh eyes and voices, if we all underwent the scrutinies, if we could all approach the Table of the Lord with hearts aflame with the awe of new beginnings, seeing at this altar the very throne of God.
Where is Lent leading us?
What do we want to BE on the other side of Lent?
What destination are we aiming for in this annual flight of discipleship?
What if we could give alms and feel the pinch a little rather than scraping the bottom of the baggage of life for loose change to fling in the general direction of the unspecified poor.
What if we gave the alms of time, real time to help a brother in need, or listen to his sorrows?
Then we might gain alms for ourselves, the alms of a life lived in service, the alms of compassion, the alms of fulfilled necessity.
What if we could pray without constantly worrying about getting things done? What if we could learn to adore without watches? What if we gave God the time he deserves? What if the inner rooms of our hearts could be opened and the doors of our mouths could be closed? What if we talked more to our neighbors about the joy of prayer and less about the misery of seminary life?
Then we might find ourselves gaining softness in those open hearts Then we might find ourselves able to reveal our struggles and pains. Then we might learn to love with an unfeigned love.
What if we could fast without ostentation, deny ourselves a little, purify ourselves a little, learn to control our desires a little more? What if we fasted from something meaningful and by our fasting created new habits and eradicated that which is useless from our lives?
Then we might find the purity of mind to discover what Lent truly is: a season of opportunity, a season of promise, a season of pure joy for the grace that God has given us to really look at ourselves.
Do we expect to rise on Easter as different people or do we expect to just go back to eating liver, snarfing candy and drinking those Iranian brewskies?
Well, enough. It’s time to go. The wheels have gone down.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rector has illuminated the fasten seatbelt sign indicating our initial approach into Lent. Please insure your seatbacks and kneelers are in their fully upright and locked positions. Flight attendants prepare for landing.