by Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
The holy season of Lent starts this coming Wednesday by the traditional Christian rite of imposition of ashes or observance of Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day of prayer and fasting. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter. Ash Wednesday is traditionally observed by Western Christians. It is observed by Anglicans, most Latin Rite Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians, Nazarenes, Independent Catholics, as well many from the Reformed faith.
As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and making a Lenten sacrifice that they will not partake of until the arrival of Eastertide.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants to either the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations (Wikipedia).
On this occasion, let me share with you a devotional reflections delivered by Bro. Franz Alison F Pawe during the pre-convention conference of Episcopal Churches in the city of Baguio. Bro. Franz Alison is a deacon-intern having just graduated from Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary (Quezon City) April of last year.
One in Christ
By Franz Alison F. Pawe
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)
The first month of 2020 came out to be quite too much for the world to handle, it has been a month of extreme disasters and conflicts. Such as the outbreak of the coronavirus, eruption of the Taal volcano, Locust invasion in east Africa, Trump’s impeachment trial, Ukrainian plane crash that killed 176 passengers and crew members, and the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant due to helicopter crash, and others known to us or unknown. These are tragedies and political conflicts that would challenge us to be united in prayer, faith, and respond to the needs of others with compassion. Praise be the Lord that such unity can still be felt and found as we are confronted by such events.
In our bible passage, Paul addresses a problem that still exists today – the lack of unity in the Christian Church. The Corinthian church was divided into factions based on who baptized them or who welcomed them into the Christian faith. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, spoke to them as a brother in Christ. He wrote this letter for them to be reminded of their faith in Christ and not to any other being. He encouraged them to be of one heart and mind in carrying out God’s mission and not to create divisions that would make them forget their calling as Christians.
The church in Corinth is an image for many churches today. Many churches have the potential to be divided. Why are their potential divisions? Why are their existing divisions? This might be because of the Lack of URL. (an acronym which stands for Lack of Understanding, Lack of Respect, and Lack of Love of Neighbour).
Lack of Understanding. We are gathered today to discuss concerns in this part of God’s vineyard. Discussions that would either unite or divide us because of varying opinions and principles. And it is important for us to understand each and every one in this room. Saint Francis of Assisi wrote, “…Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. We at times are earnestly wanting to get our point across that we forget to listen to other people’s voice. And even when we listen, how often do we really seek to understand? Some questions that we might ask ourselves are: Where are they coming from? What are they really trying to say? What are they going through? Once we manage to understand in the face of oppositions or debates, then we can “seek to understand”.
Lack of Respect. It’s so easy for us to give respect to those whom we think worthy of respect. How about giving respect to those whom we dislike? Not respecting someone shows more of our character rather than the person. Why? Respect in its truest sense is equally for everyone. Dwayne Johnson once said “We respect others not because they are worthy of it but because it’s a reflection of our character.” In the midst of our varying cultures, beliefs, and situations, respect invites unity in the midst of diversity.
Lack of Love of Neighbour. Love goes beyond any human barriers such as race, colour, culture, belief and anything that human beings created to be set apart from one another. Being able to understand and be respectful are results of genuine love. It teaches us to embrace and grow from each other’s differences and similarities. As much as we are grateful for the things we have in common, we are also blessed with the differences we have. By it, we learn new things and enlightened by it. The Love of our Neighbour which we first felt from God, provides everlasting relationships that seeks to do things for the glory of God.
Now, if we lack even just one of these three, how can we as a Church respond to the tragedies and conflicts that are around us? How can we as a Church be a source of love and hope if we are not united? Loyalty to Jesus Christ is the firmest foundation we have as Church and not loyalty to any person in this room or this diocese or outside or inside this church. Through this loyalty we come to realize that we are a church that understands, seeks to respect others, and spreads love around. Many more challenges ahead of us this year, January is just the first month of 2020, and we must stand united and focus on the mission of the church – God’s mission.
Pre – Convention is at hand and Convention is near, we cannot do away with debates and quarrels. But this should not be a source of disunity amongst us. My friends, not to conform with the idea of others does not necessarily mean to hate each other. As Paul reminds the Corinthian church of their oneness in Christ, likewise he reminds us to be one in heart and mind. Our motivation of unity is laid in the foundation of acknowledging that what we do is not our mission but of God’s. This mission entrusted to us as a church is alive and will continue to the end if we are united. As the saying goes “For together we stand, divided we fall.”
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.