In this, the church’s holy spring, we ask you, O God, to renew us. With a gentle breath, blow from our lives the dust of sin, and make us your people again. Lift us from guilt, and shame, and regret, to repair all we’ve broken, and give us the gift of repentance. With the lengthening days, stretch our hearts, too, to be ready for your risen life; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today we hear the prophet Joel calling us to return to the Lord, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Joel calls us to start over; as Advent is the beginning of the New Year, Ash Wednesday and Lent are the beginning of our new life. I think we have a deep desire to start over, to begin again, to turn to God and take a deep, refreshing breath of new life, and to say, here I am Lord, I have heard you calling in the night.
This is our opportunity. This is our call. We present ourselves to God, just as we are, confident in the promise of starting over. Blow the trumpet in Zion, return to the Lord, for God is gracious and merciful. I believe that we want to start over because we do want to be more faithful to the Gospel call to love as Christ loves. Today we hear the urgency of Joel’s trumpet blast and the proclamation of this annual fast. It is the invitation to turn our personal attention, and our common attention, to the deeper life into which we are called.
Ash Wednesday, and all of Lent are an opportunity. An opportunity to put all our attention toward the Gospel call to love as Christ loves. Ash Wednesday and Lent are an opportunity to examine ourselves and find where we miss the mark of that love. Ash Wednesday particularly is an opportunity to come to our senses, to be reminded of who and whose we are, to start over, to loosen our heart’s grip on the things that separate us from the love of God and our sisters and brothers. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to do that which is described in our gospel reading, to give alms, to pray, and to fast. I encourage you today to commit yourself to these. We are participating in Faith Builds, a Habitat for Humanity project to ongoing house building by the faith community. You may take a Habitat House home with you today, and a calendar, and each day deposit into your house according to the thanksgiving on the calendar. We are working toward $600.00. I would also encourage you to take on a Lenten discipline like spending some moments each day in prayer and reflection, and I would encourage you to consider fasting from that which keeps you separate from God.
Today we are marked again with the cross of Christ. We were marked as Christ’s own forever with oil at baptism, today that same cross is traced with ashes. These ashes remind us of who we are, and whose we are. These ashes remind us that we came from dust and to dust we will return. These ashes remind us that God is God, and we are not.
You will notice that most everything has been removed from our sanctuary, you will notice some decoration that reminds us of our journey in the wilderness with Jesus, you will notice some things that point us in the direction of Easter and resurrection, but for now are merely portends. The absence of color and decoration is not nothing but rather something. It is like the field in the winter, it looks brown and lifeless, but we know that underground, decomposition is happening, bugs and worms are working the ground so that minerals are replaced, the soil is aerated. What looks lifeless on the surface becomes fertile and full of life.
The reality is that all organic matter like you and me returns to its source, remember that it is dust from which you came, and it is to dust that you shall return. This reality in and of itself is enough to humble each one of us, and yet we recognize this reality once a year, and spend 40 days in the wilderness. We enter Lent each year with the mark of the ashes on our foreheads, because the ashes remind me that God is God, and we am not. The ashes remind us that it is only in the seeming nothingness, the dirt, the mud, the messiness of this day, that God can mold us, that God can create in us something new. God calls us to this day, God calls us to repent and return, God calls us to examination and penitence. And the ashes of this day help us to remember who and whose we are. They help us to remember to turn away from our self-absorption and turn to God. We were marked with oil at our baptism as Christ’s own forever. The ashes of this day help us to remember who we are, chosen and marked by God’s love, delight of God’s life, and that God is right here in our midst to show us the way.
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