Lent started for most people a week ago on Ash Wednesday, according to the church calendar. Lent started for me tonight as I walked home after night class, crying a little. Maybe from the cold. Maybe from exhaustion. Mostly from a very real sense of pain that I can’t really comprehend. Why can’t we love each other?
On the morning of Ash Wednesday, the Mass at Gethsemane Episcopal was somber. No alleluias. Deep purple robes. The stained glass, shadowy against the backdrop of dawn in the sky outside, whispered Biblical narratives over our pews. We tried to listen. A thick silence like a blanket draped over us, but I shivered in my seat. Who was Jesus, really? The question hadn’t left, but I looked up at the crucifix. It felt like a truth to me, an image still projected against the back of my eyelids when I tried to blink it away. A sorrowful mystery, indeed.
Pew by pew, we filed toward the alter where we knelt, waiting, making eye contact with each other and then looking away. Father Jim smeared ashes on my forehead in an abstract form of the cross.“Remember that you are dust,” he said, “and into dust you shall return.”
I don’t really understand the Eucharist on a regular Sunday, and especially not during Lent. The Last Supper is never rational. It’s not even something I always believe. But it is something I wonder about, and something I love. The sign of the cross is prayer enough for me when I’m looking at the bread and hoping it isn’t just a regular piece of bread. “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in eternal life,” the Book of Common Prayer says. Maybe I’ll never know what that means. Can we accept things we don’t understand? I lifted the wafer to my lips.
After a sip of wine, I went back to my seat, feeling the Element burn for a moment and then disappear. That’s usually what faith is like for me. Glimpses of God, few and far between, especially on days like this where division in the church and hurtful words from other Christians is all over social media. The more we try to talk it out, the more the pain grows. When I walked home from class tonight, a physical heaviness spread across my chest. What if that Bread was just bread? Why can’t we love our neighbors as ourselves? It’s hard to imagine God loving us.
I don’t know much about how to suffer like Christ did. I’m not in gardens crying tears of blood. But I hurt. I know the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart are displeasing and destructive to me, my neighbors, and God. I try to pass around ideas, make people laugh, invite people to the Table like Christ would do. But I’m failing, and so is the rest of the Church. Even though it’s Lent and we’re repenting and praying, I’m afraid some of these wounds won’t heal. We don’t like how we look with scars.