Summary: What does the journey of Lent mean to us, and why is Ash Wednesday such an important beginning point for us as Christians.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return, turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
Words which we recognise to be as central today to our worship, as our act of communion. They signal the beginning of the Holy season of Lent and our walk through the wilderness with Christ as he prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity upon the cross.
Whilst we would normally have an act of confession at the beginning of our service, you will have already noticed that this has not yet happened, because today we are called to a deeper act of confession which causes us to consider all of who we are, warts and all.
We stand individually and corporately together, to repent of all we have done that we shouldn’t have, and all that we should have done that we didn’t. But also, to pray for the strength to be better.
Our first reading from the prophet Joel, speaks initially about his call to the people to lament and repent, to pray for their deliverance from their deeds. Joel speaks to his people about the impending judgement of God.
But then we see in the second part of the reading, hope, God is now inviting the people to come back to him with all their hearts, no half-hearted gesture will be enough. Rend your hearts, and not your clothing.
We often read of people in the old testament ripping their clothes and wearing sackcloth, here we see in Joel, a different approach, one which is meant to strike into the core of our being. Showing repentance through their actions is one thing, but to understand the severity of their ways, Joel is calling them to deep heartfelt repentance which makes them ache with grief as they remember their sins.
Then finally the third part of the reading, the people gathered together to observe a sacred feast, a solemn assembly, where they would show their love for God through their faith in him, and through this act, strengthen them.
The priests leading them in worship, offering prayers for them, demonstrating on the behalf of their people the grief that is borne by them.
Whilst the first reading deals with personal sin and the way we come back into relationship with God, the second reminds us of how temptations can really cause us significant issues. The times when our sin isn’t about what we have done, but in the way that we attempt to deflect from ourselves and focus on others, usually unfairly.
Sadly, today within the world we see it all too often, the news has twisted words or a situation, perhaps even blown it out of proportion, and has riled people up. Years ago this wouldn’t have worked very well, as there were no public forums where instant response could be given. Today however there is, and phrases such as click-bait and keyboard warriors have come into widespread use.
Anyone who risks putting their opinion onto Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social media platforms, takes a chance that they are not going to be shot down. Now whilst there can be civilised debate about issues, which can be a good thing, sadly this is not the norm, and what we often see is the 21st century translation of the events that happened in the Gospel. Instead of – this woman is committing adultery, we now have any manner of insults and accusations against a variety of people, sometimes simply for doing their job. I saw one comment recently on a rather nasty thread, and it read – wow we’ve all become medical experts now!
Christ’s challenge to those who would throw the first stone is as relevant to us now as it was nearly 2000 years ago. If we were to update the language to today, perhaps Christ would have said, let any person without sin press the enter key. I think if that was adopted, there would be a lot less hate and persecution found on social media, and within our world generally.
Today condemnation isn’t just centred on judging a person who has done something wrong, it can be aimed at anyone who raises their head above the parapet, and while they are guilty of their own sins, which are likely nothing to do with what they have posted, the principle message of the gospel is the same, it is still not our place to judge another person.
As we come to the time of self-examination and confession, we know that these are things which are always difficult for us to do, because they require that we essentially look ourselves in the eye and recognise the things that upon reflection, we don’t like about ourselves.