Welcome, friends! For Christians all over the world, today begins a 40-day journey to Easter. Click the videos below, and together we will start that journey toward Jesus…
Forgive, almighty God, those things we have done which have caused you sadness, and those things we should have done that would have brought you joy. In both we have failed ourselves, and you. Bring us back to that place where our journey began, when we said that we would follow the way that you first trod. Lead us to the Cross and meet us there. Amen.
Blow the horn in Zion; give a shout on my holy mountain! Let all the people of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is near— a day of darkness and no light, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread out upon the mountains, a great and powerful army comes, unlike any that has ever come before them, or will come after them in centuries ahead…
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow; tear your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive. Who knows whether he will have a change of heart and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Blow the horn in Zion; demand a fast; request a special assembly. Gather the people; prepare a holy meeting; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the groom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep. Let them say, “Have mercy, Lord, on your people, and don’t make your inheritance a disgrace, an example of failure among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (CEB)
Imagine you are out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—not a pretty sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You do not want to leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience.
So, you stoop down and begin gathering the trash. It ends up taking several hours before you can begin to see a difference. It is amazing, you muse, on how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you will have to keep coming each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it is as if you did not even do any work at all. In fact, there is more trash than the day before. It seems the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage just in the one measly day you were away.
Then, you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So, you begin to follow the creek upstream. Sure enough, there is a nasty garbage dump that has been there for years. The waste from it is emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job was only a small opening to a world of filth. You could try and clean every day. But if you really want your creek to be free of pollution, this means going directly to the source and dealing with the crud that is there.
Our hearts are the source from which our lives flow. Unfortunately, we spend great amounts of time, money, and energy—even in the church—doing trash removal “downstream.” But real transformation begins when we travel upstream to the source. Our real struggles and sins take place where no one sees them down deep in the heart.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent. Ashes remind us that we live in a polluted world full of garbage. That pollution is fouling up our lives and we must respond to the mess with a humble return to God. Lent is a 40-day cleaning project on the inside of our hearts, instead of trying to keep up dealing with all the scum on the outside of our lives.
Entrance to confronting the dump of garbage requires fasting, self-examination, prayer, and repentance. The Lord said through the ancient prophet Joel that it is not too late to return to God with our whole hearts. To do so requires grieving and lamenting our stinky sin and turning back around to a merciful God who does not like to be angry and punish people.
We find that at the end of the Lenten journey, Jesus is there. He swallows all the massive tonnage of the world’s garbage on the cross. The refuse is so rotten that it kills him, and there is only darkness. Then, three days later, Christ is risen, having shaken off the filthy stench of death. Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet’s words, the merciful one who has taken care of the filthy source of garbage once and for all.
May you find on this day and every day that the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and repentance put you in a place to receive Jesus. As you lean into the mess throughout the next six weeks of Lent, may you discover the cleansing and healing agent, Jesus Christ, the Savior who scrubs the heart clean of toxic waste.
Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the death of your Son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I wish that my words could be written down or chiseled into rock. I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth. My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God. Yes, I will see him for myself, and I long for that moment. (CEV)
I am going to let you in on the reasons why I observe the Church Calendar each year and follow the Christian seasons. First, it is a way for me to know Jesus better. The Year is thoroughly centered around the person and work of Christ. Much like the seasons of Spring and Fall, I look forward to entering a new season and discovering the beauty of my Lord in a fresh way.
Second, observing the Christian Year reorients my use of time. Rather than think of time in secular terms or as my time, I submit to time that is dictated by a thorough attention to Jesus. And finally, moving through the Year is a journey with Jesus – his journey is my journey.
All of Christ’s life was an act of redemption for us. His redemptive events of incarnation, holy life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification demonstrate that Christ is my Redeemer. What is more, I enjoy a union with Jesus, an intimate connection which is so close that his journey is my journey. Christ identified with me in his life on this earth. Jesus took on the death which should have been mine. He rose from death, ascended to heaven, and was glorified as King of all.
I know that my Redeemer lives because I have walked with him. I, too, just like my Savior, will someday rise from death, ascend with him, and reign with him forever in his glorious presence. Jesus has made it all possible, and that is why I enter the Christian Year, time and time again, with expectancy, faith, and hope.
With the ashes of Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) this is more than a reminder of my mortality. It is full of meaning and imbibed with hope. Yes, I am dust, and I will return to dust. But that dust will rise again and live with Jesus forever.
Merciful Lord and Savior, you lived the life on this earth which I could not in my weakness and shortcoming. Through the gift of faith, I have an inheritance and a hope that someday I will be with you forever. Thank you for your abundant grace and the constant reminders throughout the Year that you are with me – your journey is my journey. Amen.
Today on this Ash Wednesday the appropriate posture of the devout Christian is to pray. Specifically, to confess our great and many sins, shortcomings, and moral failures. This might sound negative and a major downer. Yet, to not look evil square in the face and call it out for what it is, is at best denial, and at the worst allowing a bitter seed of unforgiveness to gestate in the depths of your soul.
I believe there is no better way to confront the darkness within than with using the ancient prayer book of the Old Testament Psalms. I encourage you to pray Psalm 51 out loud, slowly, with a generous amount of emotional flavor – even, and especially, if you don’t feel like it. Pray it over more than once, and perhaps several times punctuated throughout the day today. In doing so, you will be joining the faithful across this entire big world who today offer to God a prayer of subversion against the blackness on this earth.
51 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! 2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin! 3 Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me. 4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment. 5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me. 6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.
7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. 9 Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds! 10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! 11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. 12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach wrongdoers your ways,
and sinners will come back to you.
14 Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation,
so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. 15 Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will proclaim your praise. 16 You don’t want sacrifices.
If I gave an entirely burned offering,
you wouldn’t be pleased. 17 A broken spirit is my sacrifice, God.
You won’t despise a heart, God, that is broken and crushed. (Common English Bible)