Sermon Archives

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Ash Wednesday (Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Ash Wednesday

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy Ash Wednesday!

Apparently the last time this combination of celebrations happened was in 1945 and it will happen again in 2024 and 2029. People are making sense of the convergence of these holidays in a variety of interesting ways.

One person went in a theological direction, tweeting: “This year’s Valentine’s falls on Ash Wednesday. A fitting reminder that love entails sacrifice.”

Another person went with the theme of penance, tweeting: “I’m going to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday at the same time by eating chocolate until I get heartburn.”

Another person seemed to go in a syncretistic direction, combining Greek mythology and Christianity, tweeting: “Be advised: when Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday, Cupid uses all those forehead crosses as cross-hairs.”[1]

While I don’t believe in Cupid, this last tweet is probably most in line with the direction of my sermon.

In the Style section of the New York Times, there is a column called ‘Modern Love’. One of their most popular essays was entitled “To fall in love with anyone, do this”.

The basic premise of the article explored the idea that given certain conditions, any two people could fall in love.

Mandy Len Catron, the author, described a study led by the psychologist Arthur Aron and his team. Aron’s study explored whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a series of personal questions. There are 36 questions in the study, broken up into 3 sets, each set more probing than the previous one. At the end of the questionnaire, study participants were asked to stare into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes. Catron was particularly intrigued when she read that 6 months after taking part in the study, 2 participants were married and invited the entire lab to the ceremony.[2]

In conversation with one of her acquaintances, Catron mentioned this study and so she and her friend decide to try the 36 questions one night at a bar.

She described the experience saying: “We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. [The conversation with my friend led to] the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, at 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly.

But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances. The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: “Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).”

In Catron’s opinion, part of what creates the sense of intimacy is that the questionnaire helps us tell our stories and reveal personal things about ourselves in a way that gets us out of our pre-formulated narratives.

The questions are an invitation to explore and search for the words to express those things that in the course of our everyday lives, we rarely get a chance to share. Interestingly, it wasn’t so much the disclosure about herself that made her feel most vulnerable, but revealing her thoughts and feelings about her partner.

All the questions regarding your questionnaire partner encourage each person to identify positive qualities of the other as well as qualities that both share, fostering a sense of appreciation and closeness.

Catron says: “What I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action… it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.”[3]

Having done the questionnaire myself, part of the alchemy of the questionnaire is to take the time to slow down and actually listen to the other person, not already assuming we know their answer to the questions. And for us, having the courage to say meaningful and thoughtful things about our lives and our partner.

In the Gospel passage today, Jesus warns his listeners not to be like hypocrites - who perform their piety and their relationship with God, in order to be seen and recognized. The word ‘hypocrite’ is from Greek theatrical words that mean ‘actor’ or to ‘play a part’.[4] In this passage, Jesus warns us against the dangers of being untrue, and invites us to self-examination and introspection to learn about our deepest motivations and desires. He invites us to let go of our false selves when we relate to ourselves, each other and most of all with God.

He invites us to let go of the selves that fit an idea of who we should be or how we want to be perceived. Sometimes we get so used to the scripts that we’ve written for ourselves, or the scripts that we’ve inherited about ourselves, that we lose touch with what’s actually there.

The invitation of our faith journeys is to let God peel away layers of self-defense, cynicism, fear, hardness of heart, and all those other crusty layers to reveal the holiness that lies within each and every one of us.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Even when we can’t see the difference between our true selves and our false selves, God is able to see it and to show us the truth of who we are. And when the truth begins to cut through the chinks of that armour, we let God’s light shine on the seeds of divinity that God has planted within us to grow and flourish.

Part of that journey, part of the saying ‘yes’ to the healing enacted by the living and active word of God is to say yes to the 4-part journey that Isaiah outlines in the good Lenten verbs we find in our reading today: seek - call - forsake - return.[5] Seek the Lord. Call upon God’s name. Forsake untruth. Return to the Lord.  

Lent invites us to make our love an action as we make the effort to glimpse the truth of who we are - the good, the bad and everything in between - and to lift it up so God’s love can bathe us and heal us - and in building our trust and closeness with God, we will discover the truth about who God is.

My prayer for us at this threshold of our Lenten season is that we may accept God’s call to love in action. That it may be a time of introspection and intimacy with God; a time to pay attention to our interior landscapes, to draw growth from the places where death turns into life.

May we feel God’s gaze on our hearts like the kindness and reverence of candlelight as we courageously begin our inward journeys this Lent. Amen.




[4] Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 417.

[5]  Brueggemann, W. A Way Other than Our Own: Lenten Devotions. P. 3.