Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Joel 2:13
Didn’t I just finish cleaning up from Christmas and putting all the boxes of decorations in the attic? It sure feels like it. Yet with Advent and Christmas celebrations still fresh in our minds, and our brief passage through Epiphany complete, we now step into our Lenten journey towards Easter. And that first step is a doozy. Ash Wednesday is a bit of an anomaly. In a culture that idolizes youth, health, and beauty, a day set aside to consider our mortality doesn’t quite fit in. Where autonomy, improvement and control are hallmarks of what we define as success, what do we do with a focus on our dependence, helplessness and brokenness? We enter Lent hearing the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Yet even as we are reminded of death, we cross the threshold into life and hope.
While I long for the bright and joyful celebration of Easter, I know that this journey through Lent makes me more able to fully receive and embrace the resurrection life Jesus offers. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is so easy to associate myself only with the righteous. It is true that as followers of Jesus, we have been made new, receiving Jesus’ righteousness. But it is also true that we are sinners. On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge this shared human condition. Part of that shared condition includes our tendency to compare and compete. That is not what this day is about. It does not matter who is worse off or better off than me. We are all sinners in need of grace. We are all called to confess.
As we make our confession, we discover the gift of the precious 40 days that follow. I hate the fact that I am a sinner. I don’t want to be selfish, greedy or proud. I don’t want to admit my propensity to deceive myself and others so that I look good or can get what I want. I don’t want to face my own broken places. But facing them is a gift. Until I discover and uncover the places I have turned from God, I am unable to confess them to God. And until I confess them to God, the walls I have built around my brokenness block the light of his forgiveness and transforming grace. As much as I hate to see my own mess, enabling me to see it is one of God’s gifts to me, and turns me from what brings death, to life.
I will, along with many, choose to give up something and take up something for Lent. I will enlist my body and mind to serve me on this journey. Together we can let the longings for what we give up remind us of all Jesus gave for us; our new practices open our hearts in new ways to God’s grace; our self-examination to open our dark places to Jesus’ light; and our prayerful attentiveness attune our hearts to his voice.
Even now, return to God . . . for he is gracious and compassionate. Let’s tell the truth about who we are and all we need, and open the door to receive all God has to give. It is a journey worth taking.
Prayer: Lord, I confess that I am a sinner in need of your grace. I thank you that you love me and long to forgive, heal, restore and continue your transforming work in me. Open my eyes to see the places where I still need to die to sin, so that I can fully live for and in you. Thank you that you can and will do this as I return to you with all my heart. For I pray in the name of the one who died so I might live. Amen
Mercy by Matt Redman
Contributed by Pastor Carla Olsen Draper