Ash Wednesday–The Threshold to Lent

  • Posted on Feb 24, 2009
Today is Ash Wednesday and today we stand at the threshold of Lent. Will we cross the threshold and enter into this season fully? How do you enter Lent fully? The word that comes to me this year when I think of Lent is the word “liminal.” The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limin or “threshold.” Liminal means “a barely perceptible, barely sensory threshold.” Liminal is “an in-between state.” Lent has such a way about it.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy is a service that recognizes the liminal. The service begins simply and seems to be as usual–the readings and a homily. Then the threshold moment comes. We are invited to “the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and be reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 265). We are then invited to receive the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead as we hear the words: “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” A humble threshold moment. A moment where in the midst of life, we find death.
As the service moves forward, we repent of our sins in a more considered way in the Litany of Repentance and in the recitation of Psalm 51, and then we turn, even on this somber day, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In our tri-Church service tonight, instead of Eucharist, our three congregations will come forward once again–to have our hands anointed to go out into the world and serve God. Even in the midst of death, we live. Another threshold crossed.
Psalm 51:7 reads: “for behold, you look for truth deep within me.” In truth, we all are moving from death to life and back again over and over again in our lives. Sometimes that fact is imperceptible. Sometimes we do everything we can to ignore this condition. Lent is the time that we stare this fact of “death in life, life in death” squarely in the face. At the base of everything we do as humans, this very basic truth lies deep within. This very basic truth is the cause of so much heartache and suffering. This basic truth is our holy joy.
Where are you on the threshold of life and death this Lent? Take a look–or better yet, experience–the Ash Wednesday liturgy on p. 264 of the Prayer Book as well as Psalm 51. What deeper truth about your life is God nudging you to look squarely in the face this Lent?
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