Summary: This particular Lenten sermon, is a good example of what Lent (Ash Wednesday) is all about. We focus not on what we do but, on what Jesus did for us.
A Wounded Savior for a Wounded People
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster. 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? Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly;gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not Your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ” Then the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on His people. The Lord answered and said to His people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.” (Joel 2:12–19)
Sermon: A Wounded Savior for a Wounded People
We heard it at the start of today’s liturgy: dust you are, and to dust
you shall return. The ashes for which this day is named show no one
that you are fasting—for who knows if you are?—but they do show
everyone that you are dying, and of that you and everyone else may be
sure. Dust we are, and to dust we return. Such is the wages of sin.
But then we stare in amazement tonight at One for whom those
words sound so wrong. We see Him and cry out: “O sacred Head, now
wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown!” (LSB 450:1). If ever there were
a head that did not call for the ashes of this day, it is His sacred head!
Why thorns, when it should be a golden diadem? Here we see in our
flesh the One who formed us from the dust at the first. Here is the One
who in unfathomable love for our fallen race became dust for us. And
now He will even lay down His head into the dust? But there is no sin
in Him! In Him, there could be no death. How and why will He die? We
will spend all this Lent pondering in awe such questions.
When Joel declares a sacred fast, when he urges the trumpet to sound
and the people to gather, we discover that the occasion is one of return.
Lent is always about a return… to. We so often think of it in terms of turning away from—what we are giving up, what we will fast from. Make no
mistake about it: it is a good thing to fast. Did not our Lord assume that His disciples would do so when He said in tonight’s Gospel: “when you fast”? When, not if! But by itself fasting, going hungry, can be nothing more than an empty religious exercise. The Lenten fast goes deeper than your decision to deny yourself some tasty treat. Rather, it invites, it summons, it urges you back to someone, to the Lord. “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). A Lent that is anything less than a return in faith to the Lord is only a religious game and worth less than nothing.
Rather than play games with God, hear in this sacred season His summons
to you is to come back to Him, to return to Him now. He does not
want some piece of you, some outward display, torn garments and such,
a few minutes tossed His way one day a week. No. He wants you, your
heart. Hence, rend your hearts!
“A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm
51:17). A heart that is torn open, is a heart that is wounded, damaged, and broken. Such a heart God receives from you as a pleasing sacrifice.
When, from the depths of your being, you plead, “O God, have mercy
on me, a sinner! I have made such a mess of it all. I have hurt so many
people and failed so often to show Your love, and You know how terrible
my thoughts and how soiled my desires are with sin. Have mercy on me,
O Lord! Have mercy!”