Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 6th, Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent’s 40 days. This is the time of our self-examination. We are preparing ourselves to approach the holy cross. We are getting ready to stand as witnesses of Jesus’ brutal crucifixion.
In the Gospel stories of the cross, we read that bystanders, soldiers, priests and criminals are all taunting Jesus in His last hours of life. They mock Him for preaching that He came to save others and yet He cannot even save Himself. The irony is plain to see for any Christian, and it is intentional.
The cross is Jesus’ willingness to even sacrifice His very life, and the cross is His last and most compelling act of salvation. His life, mission and proclamation insisted on the prevailing power of love and forgiveness, compassion and empathy. When this gospel was put to its greatest test as Jesus’ enemies tortured Him to death, Jesus remained steadfast. He would not reciprocate hatred for hatred, violence for violence. Instead, He laid out His arms and allowed them to be nailed to the cross. And with that act Jesus has opened His arms to embrace all people in God’s love. It’s true that He would not save Himself, but by choosing to die Jesus did save all of us.
Ours is not only to marvel at what Jesus has done (but how can we not?). Ours is to make Jesus’ gospel our gospel. In the Isaiah selection above, it is third-Isaiah we are actually hearing. The people of the exile are starting to return to their homeland. They have before them the opportunity to not only re-establish the old kingdom, but to create a just and generous new society.
Yahweh reveals through His prophet that ritual alone is not enough. The faith must be lived out beyond the houses of worship and among the people. Therefore:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
The cross is not merely to get us into heaven. The cross is to create heaven on earth. May Lent help us to realize that this does not have to seem so preposterous.
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