“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- 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.” (Joel 2:1 – 2)
We need Transfiguration Sunday in order to endure and survive Ash Wednesday. We need someone on our side to see our way through the darkness. And because Ash Wednesday comes every year, we need to be reminded on the day of Transfiguration that the Jesus who seeks to be our Friend is also the Jesus who is our Redeemer.
“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Verses 12 – 13)
If we could be assured, without a doubt, that we would be forgiven and our sins absolved, what use would there be to return to the Lord God? That salvation is assured for those who return and believe does not mean that we can come belatedly or halfheartedly.
“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?” (Verse 14)
When the fortunes of the Israelites seemed to rest not just on their correct and devote worship of Yahweh, but also their relationship with the nations around them, it behooved the nation of Israel to take no unnecessary chances. This was the warning of the prophets.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 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. 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?’ “ (Verses 15 – 17)
We who believe in wake of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection should not be complacent or less than diligent in our worship and beliefs. The apostles, who preached after Jesus returned to heaven, deliver the same sort of message. Paul, who is quoted here and who knows well the struggle his forebearers had, describes himself as suffering as the prophets of old did. But he is willing and glad to suffer through it if it means his readers find their way to salvation.
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10)
I have been thinking about my experience of Ash Wednesdays in the past. In my growing up years, the season of Lent was not a large part of our church calendar although Easter certainly was. In my early adult years Maundy Thursday was a great emphasis as was the week before Easter Sunday. But the weeks before Maundy Thursday were not of particular note. It was in seminary that I cam to learn about the shades and meanings of Lent. And embraced it as a season of reflection and growth. If it can be said that one looks forward to Lent, I do.
Ash Wednesday in seminary was noted and celebrated by having an ashen sign made on one’s forehead, and it made me conscious of the coming season. I miss that also. Almost enough to make me consider putting such a symbol on my forehead this day. I am writing this at least a week in advance, so I have time to consider and plan it. But it seems anti-thematic to simply put such a symbol on my forehead as a solo experience and ritual. The meaning becomes so much richer in the context and company of others, and in a joint/corporate worship service. I do want to think of something to do however, to set aside the day as special to me. With all the mercies and blessings that have been bestowed upon me, I desire to respond back to the Divine.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:1-17)
May you, beloved reader, find a way and a time to think about the meaning of this day and make an acceptable and heartfelt response to the Divine. Selah!