The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels by the Sea, Longboat Key, FL
Jeremiah 31:27-34; Hebrews 5:1-10; John 12:20-36
In 2007, the first full year of my retirement it was mid-way through a Wednesday morning before I remembered “my goodness, this is Ash Wednesday”. For more than 30 years I had, as a parish Rector, been obsessively aware of Ash Wednesday, as one of the important lodestars of parish life. I had often wondered why the Church was not filled on that incredibly important day.
In 2007 I got the answer to my wonderings – people were not in Church on Ash Wednesday because they forgot!
On March 17th of this year I made a comment on my Facebook “wall”. It read “I think that most Lenten disciplines are bogus”. I wrote this in part because I have never been skilled in keeping a Holy Lent, (after all I did forget Ash Wednesday a few years ago); and in part with my tongue in my cheek.
One of my peers wrote back asking “are you getting crotchety in your old age?”, to which my reply was “what do you mean by old age!”
A young man from Dalton, MA wrote “I could not agree more”. That surprised me a bit as I could not even imagine that he would even think about Lent, so I wrote back and teased him about his comment.
Then he told me what he meant, and I was sorry that I had teased. He told me that two years ago he had promised himself that he would try to be the best husband and father he could be. He went on say that this entailed daily discipline and self denial. He was trying to live in a Lenten way year round.
Earlier this week I read your good Rector’s letter to the parish in the “Sandpiper”. David Danner, one of the most self disciplined persons any of us have ever known, wrote of his struggles with the disciplines of Lent. His words and those of my young friend in Dalton have given me pause for thought.
I suspect that I’ve never cared much for Lent as I am not a sack-cloth and ashes kind of Christian. I find it easier to bask in joy than to lament in failure.
Now I am trying to understand that Lent has its own particular joys.
That joy is expressed to me in a few words from each of our hymns. I chose them with this sermon in mind.'
When I was seven or eight I heard “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” for the first time. Two words from that hymn seized me then as they seize me now.
They read “Ponder anew”. Oh the joys that come from the simple discipline of pondering anew the mercies of the Lord. Although our experience of God is often tinged with doubts, fears and questions, as we ponder anew, as we look back, it is to realise again the faithful and tender mercy of the Lord.
“Ye Holy Angels Bright”, written by the great Puritan Richard Baxter, is a celebration of what we call the communion of Saints.
Note the first words in each stanza.
“Ye Holy Angels bright”.
“Ye blessed souls at rest”.
"Ye saints who toil below”.
And finally “My soul, bear thou they part”.
The angels, the faithful departed, the church in the world, and then me.
The call to the individual in that hymn is sweet indeed. We are called to “a well tuned heart”. What a lovely and suggestive phrase. A well tuned heart. Just as the orchestra tunes up before the symphony, so Baxter urges us to tune our hearts to the purposes of God. It is of course a daily tuning. It’s a tuning that enables us to create wonderful melodies and harmonies to respond to the song of Universe.
That song is sung to us with joyous sound and delightful lyrics by Jesus the Son of Man. Through him we are each enabled to know the Lord – untaught by prelate or priest, but experienced personally as our iniquity is forgiven, and our sins are no longer remembered by the faithful Lord.
With the Greeks “we would see Jesus”. In the joyous disciplines of “pondering anew” and “tuning our hearts” indeed we are reconnected with the one who was lifted up, to draw the whole world to himself.
My young friend in Dalton ponders anew, and tunes his heart each day, to become the best husband and father he could possibly be.
With you I ponder anew , and tune my heart this day – we are moving towards being the best Christians we know how to be.