Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17
I am excited!
One of the reasons why Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the entire Church year is because I get to see so many of my Brothers and Sisters who I haven’t seen in a long time. So in a special way, to my brothers and sisters who I haven’t been here for a while - welcome back! We have missed your presence with us.
I am also excited about Lent because it is an opportunity for us to transform our lives so that God can use us to show his love to the world in a special way these next 40 (forty) days of Lent. Lent is a time for fasting, for prayer and for almsgiving. It is a time of penance where we are invited to change the way we live so that we become more aware of God’s action in our lives in this Easter.
The Day of Signs
Today is a day of signs. There are three signs that I want to reflect on with you today. The sign that we are to one another in this community which God has gathered here today; the sign of the cross that we receive on our foreheads today; and the sign that we will be to our family, friends and neighbors in the world after we leave here today.
The First Sign - God has gathered us!
The first sign that we have today is the sign that God has shown us in our lives. That sign is the fact that we are all gathered here today to begin our Lent together. Why has God done this?
God has gathered us here to give us a common mission, a common purpose. In the reading today the God speaks to us through the words of the Prophet Joel when he says “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; 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”. The question is – how can we do this?
The Second Sign - the cross of ash
The answer to the question of how can we return to God with our whole heart is found in the second sign – the sign of a cross of ashes that will be written on our foreheads. This is a sign for us to repent, to turn around and change our ways, to open our hearts to God in a new way.
We conform our lives to the cross when we choose to listen to him and follow the 10 (ten) Commandments, do good and avoid evil. To help us do this, I would like to offer a brief refresher of the way of God, the way that leads to life and not the way that leads to death.
The first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God, and our worship of God.
- I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
- Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
The fourth commandment is related, because parents are the first teachers of Gods love to their children.
- Honor your father and your mother.
The last six commandments deal with how we treat those whom we live with.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
The cross that we are signed with today helps us to battle these sins. When we are tempted to sin, when we know that what we are about to do breaks one of these commandments and we are tempted to do it anyway knowing that it wounds our relationship with God, remember this cross of ash that we are signed with today. If you wear a cross, then touch it when you are tempted and ask God for strength you to overcome temptation, resist sin and choose the way of life rather then to sin and choose the way of death!
The Third Sign - Our witness in the world
The third sign is the sign that we are to the world. When we leave here tonight, we will meet people on the streets, at the store, at work or at home. The sign that God wants us to be to them is our living out the change that he is inviting us to make in our lives this Lent. It is our faithfulness to this Lenten discipline that Christ will use to show His love to the world. So “return to God with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; 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”.