Ashes and Repentance

Ashes and Repentance

Lectionary Readings: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Let us pray: Lord God, as we come together this night, speak to us. Remind us of your truths. Give us faith and courage to go out again in your name. Amen.

Ashes and Repentance

Ash Wednesday is, to say the least, not the happiest celebration on the church calendar.

I mean, seriously: we are all gathered here today to remember that we’re going to die someday. The ashes I’m going to put on everyone’s foreheads later reminds us all that we are going to die, that someday our bodies will crumble and fail and return to the earth.

Also, we’re beginning the season of Lent today, a season of repentance and reflection. But also a season of honesty.

Sarah Bessey, a Christian author, wrote about her background with Ash Wednesday: she came from a church that she often calls “happy clappy,” one that wasn’t concerned with the liturgical calendar. But then one Wednesday she ended up at a church on Ash Wednesday. She wrote later about the experience: “It turned out God is as present in my grief and in my failures, in my longings and in my mortality as He was in my victories and joys. …. Lent is a reminder that God is with us, in all of it. Emmanuel is with us in our grief and our longings, the Wednesdays of our lives, just as much as the Sundays and celebrations and feasts of our lives.”

That is, God is with us through all of it: through our sins and failures, our joys and celebrations, our grief and laughter. That is the promise God gives to us, as we come to the season of Lent, where we are called to honesty and therefore to repentance, for God asks us to see our sins. As we read in our psalm today: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” God wants, not sacrifices, not outward symbols, but honesty and repentance from us. We cannot repent without first being honest, without seeing and naming our mistakes and failures. We cannot repent if we will not see ourselves truly. 

And there’s so much fear in that. Who wants to admit that they are struggling, that they have left behind their ideals, that their deep pain is spreading into other parts of their life?

But in this, too, God is with us. God knows these deep parts of ourselves, the ones we are afraid to look at. And God still loves us. God still longs to be with us, to speak with us, to heal us, no matter how broken we feel, no matter how sinful we are. No matter how sad and tired and angry we are, no matter what it is that we’re hiding or what it is that makes us sure God doesn’t care–God cares. God loves us. And so God will always be with us.

And so, too, does God ask for repentance and honesty, for when we look into ourselves and face what we do not want to see, drag out what we’d rather hide, we are healed. We no longer have to pretend. It is a process full of fear and false starts, mistakes and pain, but it also brings healing and forgiveness, grace and freedom. For this honesty and repentance is healing.

And so, on this Ash Wednesday, as we face our own mortality and sinfulness, I would invite all of you to spend a few moments and think: What do I need to repent of tonight? What do I need to be honest with God about? 

There are purple papers in your bulletins for you to use to write or draw or whatever else, or you can sit and pray, or whatever works for you. What do you need to repent of tonight? What do I need to be honest with God about?