Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, March 1, 2006



Rev. Dean Snyder


Epiphany, which ended yesterday, is the season of light. Easter, which is 40 days away, bursts into the world like the sun dawning after a cold, dank winter. We greet Easter, some of us, with sunrise services.


Right in the middle of these seasons of light, falls Lent: the season of shadows.


This is the season more than any other, even Advent, when we look into the shadowy places where the light doesn’t shine so brightly. Lent especially focuses on the shadowy places within our own souls – the shadows that are hardest to face and live with…the shadows within our own selves.


Something within us can not stand too much light. Something within us can not stand too much joy or too much truth. Maybe most of all, something within us can not stand too much love.


So we turn away from the light, from joy, from truth, from love, and create shadowy places where we can hold on to our despair, our denials, and our anger and resentments.


Light, joy, truth and love all require that we live. “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly,” Jesus is quoted as saying in one of my personal golden texts – John 10:10.


But abundant life is demanding. It requires that we give ourselves to God and to one another and to the beauty of the earth. So we turn our backs on abundant life and make shadows where despair, denial, anger and resentment can dwell undisturbed, and this shields us against love and freedom and joy…against abundant life.


The idea, originally, of giving something up for Lent was to share experientially in the sufferings of Christ. There was a time in my life that I read a lot about religion and eating. One of the little factoids I discovered was that in medieval times, monks gave up butter and lard and fat in general for Lent. They had an Ash Wednesday ceremony called “Burying the Fat” in which they would put butter in a casket, hold a funeral service, and bury the casket.


They gave up butter, lard and fat, because this made them constipated, and this – they felt – was their way of sharing in the sufferings of Christ. I shared this in staff devotions this morning and someone said, “I guess.”


But there is another meaning to giving up something for Lent. This is the idea of giving up something that keeps us from facing the shadowy places in our souls.


This is part of the rationale for giving up some kinds of food or alcohol or caffeine for those of us who use food or alcohol or Pepsi to distract ourselves from facing the painful shadowy places in our souls.


I’ve been brooding for some time what I would do for Lent this year – if I would give anything up. I’ve decided to give up sit-coms. Because sit-coms – especially Seinfeld reruns, and if I am absolutely honest, even Friends reruns, and Jane thinks I have seen every episode of Cheers at least 3 or 4 times. Sit-coms are a way for me of not feeling bad or sad when I do, but don’t want to. They are a way of me avoiding my shadows: a path to mindlessness and unself-awareness.


One of the themes of Lent is turning and returning: Letting love shine into the shadowy places within us so that God might heal us.


Another theme of Lent is remembering that we are dust and to dust we will return. All we have finally that matters is our own self. Our clothes are dust. Our bank accounts are dust. The awards on our walls are dust.


We’d better figure out how to live with our own souls, our own selves, because there is nothing else finally.


If we cannot let the light shine on our own souls, if we cannot face the shadowy places within our own selves, there is nothing else ultimately.


So during Lent we go inward to the shadowy places. We try to find quiet time and space to face our own selves. We turn down the volume and slow down the pace so that we might know ourselves and be reconciled to ourselves and then to one another and to God. During Lent we face our despair, our denial, our anger and resentments…what else? Our delusions, our pretenses, our cherished pain.


We turn and return so that the light of God’s love might shine into the shadowy places of our souls…because our souls and selves are all we have that is not dust. We’d better figure out how to live with our own selves. We’d better learn to live in peace with our own souls.