The season of Lent begins this Wednesday in the western Christian Church with the observance of Ash Wednesday, so named for the ashes which are smeared on believers’ foreheads with the reminder, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It’s a gray, gritty observance in this late wintertime, when gray and grit seem to be all around us. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
The "dust" that we are made of and will return to is earth, referring to the second creation story in Genesis, which says that the Lord God took dirt from the river bank and fashioned it into an earth creature -- "adamah" -- and breathed the breath of life into it. And at the end of our days, our bodies will be returned to the earth.
Lent is traditionally the time to take on practices that will help us on the journey through this season which leads to Holy Week and the observance of Jesus’ Passion, his Crucifixion, and, finally, his Resurrection. These have included fasting, prayer, almsgiving, Scripture reading, and weekly, if not daily, worship. It’s a kind of "spring training," if you will, and ideally the lessons learned or the habits formed will stay with us beyond this season.
At Second Congregational Church this Lent, we are suggesting that folks take on practices of identifying with the earth, of caring for and advocating on behalf of the earth, which is undergoing such momentous changes in climate and habitat that already many changes are irreversible. In worship and weekly activities, we will look at the traditional Lenten texts in light of our responsibilities as earth stewards. What temptations do we face? What winds of change are blowing and what might it mean to be "born again" in this new age? What do we really thirst for? What things do we choose to see or not see? What is our vision for the future? What "new life" are we bringing forth? How can we be sustained in the midst of despair and discouragement? What are practices for living with fear? What resurrection might we and the earth experience through God?
"If you don’t preach about climate change every 3 or 4 weeks," one writer says, "you will soon have to preach about grief every week." The Eaarth (sic) Advocates group in our congregation put forth this Lenten challenge to us all, and they will be leading worship on the first Sunday in Lent (March 9). We believe that our passions and energies are signs of God’s leading us to pay attention and to see what actions we are led to. We welcome and encourage all others in taking this time to deeply and thoughtfully consider how we all might care for the earth and advocate on its behalf.
The Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark is pastor of Second Congregational Church, UCC.