17 February 2021
Once again we move into the season of repentance, reflection and preparation for the journey to the cross and beyond. Like Advent, Lent was a season of preparation for baptismal candidates (who were baptised on Easter Sunday). For us now, although we may not be receiving baptism in a few weeks time, the disciplines of Lent remain a profound invitation to allow God’s life and values to direct our lives. As we receive the ash on our foreheads today, may it be more than just a ritual, but a reminder that all that is not rooted in God’s Reign ultimately becomes ash, but with God’s life at work within us, we are more than just dust – we are the children of God.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17: A proclamation that the Day of the Lord has arrived, with a call for repentance, and a plea for God’s mercy.
OR Isaiah 58:1-12: True fasting requires repentance and justice, not just going through the motions.
Psalm 51:1-17: David’s plea for God to cleanse him after his adultery with Bathsheba is exposed by Nathan the prophet.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10: Paul explains the suffering he and other apostles have endured in order to proclaim God’s appeal for repentance, and God’s offer of salvation.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21: The most authentic way to give, fast and pray – Jesus explains the true practice of the Lenten disciplines.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The Ash Wednesday theme is easy to identify – our lives, like David’s in Psalm 51, are on a trajectory of self-destruction and harm to others. God calls us to hear his warning and convicting voice, and to turn back to the ways of mercy, justice, and humble service. The way God offers is not an easy or comfortable way, but it is the way of life. And so, while Ash Wednesday is a day of solemnity and repentance, recognising that we are “sinners in need of a Saviour”, it is also a day of celebration, because what is offered to us is a path that leads to life. And so, as we begin the metaphorical journey of following Jesus through the wilderness, we are given, already now – right at the beginning – a glimpse of the resurrection that awaits.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
It seems to have become a normal practice to deny responsibility or to avoid acknowledging when our actions are destructive or harmful. Little true repentance has followed the economic crisis, a lot of work is being done to deny human responsibility for climate change, and the broken systems that burden developing countries with debt that outweighs whatever aid they receive are not easily acknowledged in the corridors of power. Yet, before we can possibly begin to create the world we long for, we must admit our sin – our greed, our carelessness, our ignorance, our self-centredness, our idolatry, our consumption. And to do this work of repentance effectively, we need a global spiritual revival, for only in the light of God’s Reign can we see our need, and get a vision for what we, as a species, can become.
While David’s repentance after the Bathsheba incident is famous, it’s always bothered me that it took a confrontation by Nathan the prophet to bring out this repentance. What would repentance look like if we made it a habit that we practiced without confrontation? Ash Wednesday offers us a doorway into developing the discipline of confession and repentance, which not only builds our spiritual connection with God, but which also strengthens our relationships, gives us a clearer and more humble perspective on ourselves, and which leads us to live well in the world, bringing life, rather than bringing pain. Where in our communities and churches could we use a more consistent practice of repentance?
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
The Wisdom of Ash
Remembering And Returning
Blow Ye The Trumpet, Blow
Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Just As I Am
No Sack Cloth
Lord Have Mercy (Link to YouTube video)
Change My Heart, O God (Link to YouTube video)
Show Us The Ancient Paths (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy for Ash Wednesday