It happens every year. We just get past the overindulgence of Thanksgiving gravy, Christmas pie, New Years’ toasts, Super Bowl snacks, Valentine’s chocolates, and BAM. Lent happens. This 40-day period of self examination is not designed to punish us for our self-indulgences, but rather it provides an opportunity to grow closer to God by focusing on the things that realign our priorities and our time. It is a chance to re-center our thinking. It is a chance to re-do our to-do lists and put God at the top. We worship a God of second chances, and Lent is our chance once again to shift our lives back toward God.
But more than that, Lent is about our mortality. The ashes we place on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday remind us that from the earth we have come and to the earth we return….ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This sobering season begins when the alarm has sounded, the assembly has gathered, and the day of darkness is upon us:
Joel 2 (New Revised Standard Version)
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
We are invited to return…..and repent:
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
The promise is offered: if we return to the Lord, he will relent from punishing. As we re-Lent, he will relent.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord, your God?
The call is urgent to come to the altar quickly. The time is upon us to begin this process. Even the bride and bridegroom are summoned from their bedchamber to be about the Lord’s business.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
Many of us will not be able to gather in an assembly tonight due to the pandemic. Some of you may have obtained ashes from your church and will participate in an Ash Wednesday service online. In any case, you are invited to contemplate taking on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, scripture reading, self-examination, repentance, meditation, and penitence. You may choose to give something up for the next six weeks so that you can focus on God in its absence. You may choose to add a new practice that would take you deeper in your discipleship. I hope reading this daily devotional will be part of your commitment! If you don’t have access to ashes, you can use water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead as a mark of your sincerity.
I pray that you will join me as we observe a Holy Lent.
Gracious and Loving God, be with us today as we contemplate those things that have pulled us away from you. Help us to return. We hear your call and we desire nothing but a right relationship with your Son. Grant us a meaningful Lent season, so that when Easter morning dawns, you will find us to be new people, made more like him and less like ourselves. AMEN