"Return to me with all your heart …”
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Ash Wednesday, February 26th, Psalm 51:1-17; Isaiah 58:1-12; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; and 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
The Prophet Joel still shares God’s revelation with us today. The church turns to his ancient words and calls us to a solemn assembly. Today begins the 40 days of Lent, a sacred time of introspection as we stand beneath Jesus’ cross. This does not have to be a time to only confess sin, but rather to seek sincerity: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart …” Lent is a time to move beyond religious platitudes and to be vulnerable enough to judge what Christ really means to us in our lives as we look up at Him on the cross.
Lent is a time to take our faith so seriously, to believe so deeply, that we must live it convincingly. God is not fooled by religious imitations, displays and tantrums. God’s perfect revelation is Jesus, and Jesus’ perfect revelation is all that the cross exposes. Isn’t this what God reveals to us through the prophet Isaiah: “…day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 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? ... Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”
It is not enough to pray pretty prayers. Lent draws us out to the dirty work of making the world more just and equitable. When we worship a crucified seditionist who the powers of the world could not tolerate, why would we be surprised to be called upon to change the world and to challenge power in His name?
We are “ambassadors for Christ,” says Paul. “God is making his appeal through us.” Christ could give no more than Himself on the cross. As we look to the cross throughout Lent, hopefully we are inspired to ask what we may give in return. The whole of the journey is before us. On this first day of Lent, may we pray that the journey bring us ever closer to Christ and ever deeper in our own faith.
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