How excited can you get about a season that starts by focusing on the certainty of death . . . yours specifically? Cheer up, you’re going to die sooner or later! As C.S. Lewis commented, “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased!” Well, yes and no. You will die physically at some point, but that’s not the end. God has the last word and it is not death for those who die in Christ Jesus. A better word for Christians is “departure.” You depart this life for life beyond death.
For many people being reminded about death and having to “give something up” are the primary thoughts regarding Lent. . .and are two good reasons to think about something else! The root of the word “lent” simply means “spring” new life, buds, blossoms, the end of the long winter. Sounds more like life than death to me. Though observing a season of fasting and prayer were practiced regularly during the first centuries of the church, the days prior to Easter were initially devoted to the final preparations for those being baptized into a new life in Christ.The primary time for baptisms was Easter Sunday. By the fourth century we began to see more widespread evidence of a six week period of preparation for Easter by the whole Christian community, with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer being key elements. You see, Lent is not a Catholic thing as many people believe. Though it was at times subject to abuse in the Roman Catholic church, the use of sackcloth and ashes is much, much older in expressing repentance.
The heart of the Christian faith is our participation in the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as Lord. While Advent is concerned with the final Judgment, the Incarnation, and the birth of Jesus in history, this season points us to the price paid for redemption. During these coming days may we grow spiritually through repentance, prayer, fasting, and reflecting on our walk with Christ and his incomparable demonstration of his love for all he created.
A short word about the Scripture passages themselves. The Bible was written originally without chapters and verse numbers. With that in mind, I left out the verse numbers so that it reads a little differently. I find it easier to grasp the whole thought this way. I trust you will find the same. The translation I used is the New Living Translation. The music we have chosen comes from a wide variety of sources and ensembles simply reflecting the wonder and creativity of God’s handiwork. Nothing you hear or see is original, the composers have simply rearranged the notes God made!
One final word, feel free to pass the link along to family, friends, and co-workers around the country and the world who may benefit from these devotionals. The link to subscribe is: sharpdevotional.com. It’s that simple and thank you for subscribing and passing the link along!
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February 26, Ash Wednesday
*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t.
Reader: “Turn now . . .”
Response: “While there is still time.”
Scripture: Joel 1:1-2, 12-17
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy hill.
Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
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,
and he relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
Reader: The word of the Lord from the prophet Joel.
Response: Thanks be to God.
Have you noticed how many things are bad for your health? We’re told that sugar is not good for you. You need to drink a gallon of water a day. Certain kinds of calories are good for you, other kinds are bad. Some kinds of fat are good and other kinds of fat are bad. Red wine used to be good for your heart until a while ago. It was discovered that the man who reported such in his studies on red wine and its positive effect on health, fudged his numbers! Those of you drinking red wine for heart health no longer have that excuse! You’ll have to come up with another one. How many times have you heard or read, “If you want to live longer, then….”? According to yearly studies, the five leading causes of death in 2019 were: heart disease, cancer, accidents, respiratory diseases and strokes. In 2019 there were 8.84 deaths per 1,000 people in the United States of people that have been born. While I’m all for health and living as long as possible, I have my own unofficial study as to the leading causes of death. Disease is number three; old age is number two, and the leading cause of death, (tada!!) . . . is life! On Ash Wednesday we are reminded at least once a year of the ultimate statistics and truth. You will die. The actual number of deaths per 1,000 is 1,000. The passage we read in Joel gives warning that the final day on earth does come, but also that life continues after death. Life in this world is not all there is. Joel urges his people to repent and turn to the Lord while there is still time. “Tear your hearts, not your garments.” One of the demonstrable signs of mourning was the tearing of garments. (E.g. Esther 4:1) The prophet gives an impassioned plea for his people to turn their hearts to the Lord. That is also our plea as we begin this season of Lent. Let us come to our Savior with pliable, humble hearts, tuned to the fragile nature of life and to the reality of our own mortality. Let go of anything that would hold us back. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Do not live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.” Praise be to Christ who assures us of life everlasting when we do in fact return to dust on this earth. Unlike the Garden of Eden,this time our dust will be formed into a person who lives forever having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Music: “Ye People Rend Your Hearts and If with All Your Hearts” Andrew Haji
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyD4WIsXzw A beautiful setting of this passage from Joel in Mendelssohn’s magnificent oratorio “Elijah.”
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life through your Son Jesus Christ. Lord God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jeus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ―BCP Ash Wednesday Collect