Journey through Lent: Ash Wednesday, Day 1

Religion / Rhode Island

As part of our Lenten observance in the Diocese of Rhode Island, I’ve invited people to read Luke and Acts with me. I’m posting a daily mediation on the diocesan blog. We’d love to have you join in the journey with us over there.

Here’s today’s first post:



Thank you for joining me on this journey through the story of Jesus birth, ministry, betrayal, death and resurrection; and the story of the beginnings of the Church. Together we’ll be reading Luke-Acts for the next forty days or so.

Today when I read the opening of Luke’s version of the Gospel, I was reminded of how important it is for Luke to stress the historicity of the events of Jesus’ life.

Luke begins by explaining what he means to accomplish in his writing – that this really happened in a specific place and at a specific time. Luke is making clear that he is not writing down a series of rumors or fantastical stories. He’s telling us what has really happened.

Then he turns to the account of the birth of John the Baptist and the encounter that John’s parents had with the archangel Gabriel.

As I read these words, I’m remembering my first year as a seminarian at St. Thomas’ Church in New Haven CT. My fellow seminarian decided that we should stage a dramatic reading of the birth of John as the sermon for the second Sunday in Advent that year. People dressed up in costumes and stood in front of the altar creating tableaus of the scenes that Luke’s Gospel was recounting.

My role was to be the archangel. I was wearing my newly purchased seminarian’s cassock and surplice. We thought it would be a good idea for me to climb up a ladder behind the reredos at the high altar and to “appear” dramatically at the appropriate point in the story.

I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I decided it would be most effective if I climbed all the way up to the top of the reredos and balanced on a 2×4 on the very peak about 2 stories above the stone altar.

It was certainly dramatic. I managed to climb up there without anyone noticing at first. Nobody expected to have someone standing up there so high. And then someone in the congregation gasped and pointed. My appearance was exactly what we had hoped.

People looked up in surprise and fear. They where rightly afraid that I was going to fall. (I should have been too, but I was younger then.)

But the looks of surprise and fear on their faces was what I remember most about the moment. I was seeing in their faces what Luke describes in the face of Zechariah. What a moment that most have been. Suddenly all the stories, and the pronouncement of the scriptures became real to him. They weren’t ancient history. They were standing right before him announcing a news that he could barely comprehend.

The Gospel is like that for all of us I imagine.

How is the Gospel like that for you right now, today? What are the parts of the angelic message that cut to the core of your life? What are the parts that you’re still keeping at arm’s length? Why are you doing that?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...