Thursday, February 18, 2010

Because There Is Someone To Return To

Ash Wednesday – Joel 2:12-19


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.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The penitential season of Lent is about returning. You are called to return to your baptism. You are called to return the faithful reception of God’s gifts in Jesus Christ. You are called to return to your family of faith which is the body of Christ, the Church. You are called to return to the Lord and giver of your life. You are called to return to your Lord.

Of course, all this returning means that there is something you are called to return from. You are called to return from your self-centeredness. You are called to return from your selfishness. You are called to return from your self-righteousness. You are called to return from your being lost. You are called to return from your sin. You are called to return from your path of death upon which you are walking, running, slipping and sliding.

Hence the ashes. Ashes are what is left when all is spent, when all is burned up, when all is wasted away. Ashes are the end for all living things. Uniquely for men, however, ashes are also the beginning. God uniquely made man from the dust of the earth and breathed into the dirt man’s nostrils His own living breath, and the man became a living creature. When our pilgrimage upon this trodden soil is complete, when our life is spent and burned up, we waste away, we return to the dust from whence we came. It is good for you to remember – to remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return. It is good for you to remember that it is only by God’s gracious creative activity that you live at all. It is good for you to remember that it is because of your sin that you die. For, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

When you submit yourself to be marked with ashes, you are confessing this truth. You are confessing that you are a poor, miserable sinner deserving only punishment, both now in time and in eternity. You are confessing that a return to the dust and ashes from whence you came is a just and deserved wage for your sin. You are confessing that you have nothing to bring to God to bargain with Him for something better. You are confessing that you came into this world, apart from your choosing, with nothing at all – that all you are and all you have, even your life, is an undeserved gift of God’s grace – and that God is justified to take it all back should He so choose.

But why? Why do you submit yourself in such humility and lowliness? Why do you receive such harsh words against you and suffer to be branded with dust and ashes? Why do you repent and return?

Because there is something, because there is someone to return to. For the LORD is gracious, giving us good things that we do not deserve, forgiveness, life, and salvation. For the LORD is merciful, not giving us those bad things that we do deserve, eternal suffering and death. For the LORD is slow to anger, in fact He is long-suffering, patient, and kind, and He is abounding in steadfast, self-sacrificing love.

Then the LORD became jealous for His land and had pity on His people. He calls to His prodigal children in His love, “return.” His eyes search ceaselessly, His embrace is wide and waiting to receive would-be strangers as sons. Return and receive and be restored. He made man once from dust and ash, He is ready to do it again! He has slaughtered His choice, unblemished Lamb. There will be a feast – grain, wine, and oil – you will be satisfied. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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