Readings for Ash Wednesday:
Joel 2.1-3, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5.20b – 6.10
Today we enter the season of Lent.
Yesterday many of us ‘feasted’ on pancakes, and decided on what we would ‘give up’ for Lent.
Today, all over the world, many will leave their churches bearing the sign of the cross in ash upon their foreheads.
Today we begin the forty days of penitence, prayer and reflection that will prepare us for the events of Holy Week … and then for the joy of the resurrection.
Today’s reading from John’s gospel ends with Jesus saying these words: Neither do I condemn you. Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again.
Within this service, as you receive the Imposition of Ashes, I will say: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
Everything that has led to our gathering in worship on this Ash Wednesday, leads us to the moment when we have to make a decision … a decision about how we are really going to mark the season of Lent in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty two.
As we ate our pancakes, we were ritually preparing ourselves for a time of fasting …
all that might be considered as luxuries were being ‘used up’ or ‘set aside’ for the forty days to come.
We should not have been thinking about the weight we might lose or the period of detoxification we might enjoy over the coming weeks … we should have been engaging seriously with the call to set aside that which keeps us rooted in this world and, therefore, separates us from God.
As we gathered in church this morning/evening, we should have been preparing ourselves to enter into a time of prayer that is not simply contained within the words of the liturgy, but that will go on until the time of celebration that is Easter.
As the words of scripture were read to us, we should have identified ourselves with the woman caught in adultery who was spared a humiliating and painful end through the loving and forgiving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ … we should have been thinking how his words (Go your way, and from now on do not sin again) will impact on our lives in the coming days.
As we contemplate a time of renewed dedication to fasting, prayer and engagement with scripture we also need to think how we might channel our commitment to Christ in a new and positive way.
In our reading from the prophet Joel we heard these words: the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
The prophet Joel was writing between 5 and 7 hundred years before the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and yet his words are proved to be true in the Incarnation and ministry of the Son of God …
We also heard: Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.
How best can we return to [the Lord] with all [our] heart? …
by taking his love and his light into a world that is so very, very dark.
Rather than focusing on ‘giving up’ anything (other than sin) we should be turning our attention to what more we can do for the world in which we live.
We are living through challenging and dark times.
We are being challenged, as this season of Lent begins, to reconsider what we can do to make a difference.
In our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we heard that we must arm ourselves with the weapons of righteousness.
We can all see the reality of arming ourselves in a worldly way … our news is dominated with accounts of the naked and brutal ambition of just one man, and all that that means to innocent lives.
We may well ask what we can do to make a difference?
Well … Paul gives us the answer …
Rather than arming ourselves with guns and missiles and tanks, and all the other paraphernalia of human warfare we need to arm ourselves with the weapons of righteousness …
We need to arm ourselves with … purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.
In fact, we need to obey Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery: Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.
And to remind us, we need to heed carefully the words at the Imposition of Ashes: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
If you are struggling about what to give up for Lent …
or with what to take up …
the answer is contained in today’s readings from scripture …
- We need to give up sin …
that should be our Lenten fast …
giving up all that distances us from God …
- and then we need to pray and serve as Christ prayed and served throughout his earthly life …
- and all that should be done in the context of an active and regular engagement with the words of scripture.
Be assured there is something that we, as Christians, can do to help those whose lives are tormented and broken by the anger, the greed and the pride of those who seek to dominate …
We can be faithful and well-armed in our faith … assured that, as we journey on in faith, our Lord and Saviour does not condemn us, but rather celebrates our commitment to true discipleship.