The Ash Wednesday Storm

In 1962, a stretch of five hundred miles on the East Coast was battered by a horrific Nor’easter that resulted in 40 deaths and over $500 million dollars in damage (in today’s dollars). The storm resulted in the destruction of Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, Ocean City’s famous boardwalk, and thousands of coastal homes, roads, bridges, and businesses. This storm is known to this day as one of the ten worst storms of the 20th Century.

The storm arrived without warning on Ash Wednesday and lingered for three days. Here on the Outer Banks, heroism and sacrifice resulted in no loss of life. Brave men and women worked tirelessly for days rowing small skiffs around their neighborhoods to take people who had been stranded on their rooftops to safety. Over 60 buildings were destroyed and 1,300 structures were heavily damaged. The southern part of Hatteras Island was cut off as the storm created a new water inlet, and food had to be ferried to the residents until the inlet could be filled. Winds of 70 mph battered homes and businesses all along the Banks, and waves up to 30 feet were recorded.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and we recall the devastating effects of the clouds and thick darkness as we read Joel’s warning of a storm of a different type:

Joel 2 (Common English Bible)

Blow the horn in Zion;
    give a shout on my holy mountain!
Let all the people of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is near—
    a day of darkness and no light,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!

Joel is one of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. He warned of the devastation that continued apostasy and disobedience to God’s law would bring to the people of Israel. The day of the Lord would be a day of reckoning, bringing a blackness of punishment for the corporate sin of the nation.

Like blackness spread out upon the mountains,
    a great and powerful army comes,
        unlike any that has ever come before them,
        or will come after them in centuries ahead

But much like the Ash Wednesday Storm, help is on the way. There is a Rescuer who will brave the high seas and strong winds to fetch you off the roof of your home. Will you be wise enough to get into his boat?

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your hearts,
        with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
13 tear your hearts
        and not your clothing.
    Return to the Lord your God,
        for he is merciful and compassionate,
        very patient, full of faithful love,
            and ready to forgive.

Lent begins today, and of all the things that Lent is, it is truly a season of rescue from the storm. God invites us into the safe harbor of repentance and forgiveness, where we will find his mercy, compassion, patience, and love.

God invites us to return to him.

14 Who knows whether he will have a change of heart
    and leave a blessing behind him,
    a grain offering and a drink offering
            for the Lord your God?

Ash Wednesday should come in like a storm. It should blow us out of our complacency and flood us with clarity. It should level the idols we have erected on our shores and raze our temples of self-sufficiency and arrogance. It should linger long enough to erode all of our wantonness and allow a righteous wind to take its place. It should create inlets that cut us off from our sin.

A holy Lent involves returning to God with repentant hearts and spending time in prayer, study, fasting, self-denial, worship, and service. God offers us the blessing of renewal in this stormy season. Will you come aboard?

Save yourself!

Darkening Skys by Michelle Robertson

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