Ash Wednesday

Lectionary: 219

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing.

The story is told of two monks who ventured a long way into town to purchase supplies for the monastery. Having different tasks, they agreed to separate and meet later in the day under a nearby tree.
An hour later the first monk returned and took his place under the tree. As he waited and the day grew long he recited his prayers, the psalms he had learned upon entering religious life. He partook of a small supper and then recited his rosary. As the sun was setting he lay down and slept peacefully through the night. The next morning, as the sun rose, his friend still had not returned.
Finally, late in the morning, the other appeared, somewhat worse for wear. He said, “I'm sorry; I cannot go back to the monastery with you. As I was in the city I ran into some old friends and returned to my old way of life. I spent the night carousing and drinking and I am ashamed to return.”
But the patient monk replied, “My friend, I got back here only a few minutes ago. I too spent the night carousing. But let’s go back anyway. The abbot is a hard man; he will give us a severe penance. But he is a fair man too and when we have finished our penance, he will forgive us.”
With that the two returned to their appointed way of life.

As we enter the Holy Season of Lent we remember that Jesus stands beside us in our guilt, shame and foolishness. He does not distance himself from us. He won't even say, as Ollie said so often to Stan, "Here's another fine mess you've got me into."

Accepting ashes on our foreheads we remember God's angry rebuke in the Garden of Eden, "For you are dust and to dust you shall return." The expression sounds like angry regret. God seems to say, "What else could I expect of dirt?" It is the kind of remark a frustrated parent might make, placing blame not only on the children but also on the other parent and on oneself for choosing to have children in the first place. Hearing God's regret we feel all the more abandoned.

But this is not the last word from God our Father. His Son Jesus claims us for his own. He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Because he takes on himself our guilt and grief, we walk humbly with him to Easter.

The ashes we wear signify our readiness to walk with Jesus. He was like us, made of dust, but when the dust had settled he arose. And so shall we. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.