Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us,treading underfoot our guilt?
Ash Wednesday is marked in many churches by the largest crowds of the year, larger than Christmas and Easter. They certainly fill my humble hospital chapel, in part because Christmas and Easter are holidays and Ash Wednesday is not.
But if you only go to church one day of the year, Ash Wednesday is the day to do it. That's when we choose to stand with the Church in our sins and ask for God's mercy.
Throughout the Season of Lent we remember the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance. We receive ashes on our foreheads as signs of God's blessing. Our remorse for our sins, grief for the harm we have caused, and acts of atonement are the surest signs of God's election.
We are God's people; that should be apparent to everyone.
This morning we have heard the story of the Prodigal Son. This very foolish, thoughtless young man cashiered his place in his father's house, taking his share of his father's projected estate with him. But he could not rid himself of his father's genes. Had anyone from his hometown spotted him feeding pigs in a foreign country he would certainly have said, "Aren't you so-and-so's son? What are you doing here?"
We can well imagine the pain that chance encounter might have caused. It's bad enough to be desperately poor, but to be recognized as the son of a prosperous family, come down for no good reason, would be scalding.
And yet that pain is itself a blessing and the sign of a blessing. It must drive him back home. He is still beloved; he cannot extract his father's genes from his own body. His features give him away even in a pig sty.
|Our Lady of La Leche|
in Saint Augustine Cathedral
He probably still reeked of pig as his father rushed to him. I grew up near pig farms and there's no mistaking that stench. He needed a bath and entirely new clothes, and probably a headshave and delousing. And let's throw some perfume on him for a few more days until we get the swine out of his sweat.
We are God's children. We have sinned; we cannot deny it. Nor can we deny our lineage.
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins; You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham, As you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.