+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: Joel 2:12-17
Theme: Divine Summons
Dear fellow travelers to the cross,
Christ did not die for fictitious sinners. Ash Wednesday is a call to honesty. Your Redeemer in flesh and blood is God and man for real people needing real help. So if we’re here to simulate an outward show of piety or to touch up the public face of our moral image, then we’ve come only to rehearse a hypocritical and meaningless ritual. God already knows who we are. Lent is a time for transparency of the heart.
The prophet summons people to a sacred fast. Joel’s decree is so urgent the clergy must suspend their regular duties and bride and groom must delay their wedding plans. “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning…return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.”1 This is Lent. This is a holy God embracing a frail and damaged humanity.
The theme for our Lenten series this year is “A Wounded Saviour for a Wounded People.” In the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at how Christ was wounded by betrayal, apathy, denial, mockery, and abandonment during His passion. Isaiah chides the stubborn-hearted saying, “Why do you persist in your rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart is afflicted. From the sole of your foot to top of your head there is no soundness- only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.”2 This is a sickness unto death.
Ashes are unmistakable symbols of mortality. If you are certain of nothing else in this chaotic and often confusing world of human ideals and aspirations, you can be certain of this: You are dying. In spite of the efforts of cosmetologists to cover it up and some scientist’s hopes to arrest it; you will not stop the process of dying. The disease of sin is terminal. It is not natural; it is the consequence of judgment. What further evidence do we need to drive our repentance? The Holy Spirit intends to drive us into the arms of Christ. In His grip there is life.
Lent is a time for duplicity to meet its mortality. Our secret double-lives often go far beyond the shallow hypocrisy of being respectable citizens by day and self-indulged scoundrels at night. The public life of honourable, professional virtue often coexists with the hidden life of addiction and self-destructive behavior. We know who we are. The prophet issues the categorical call to be freed from the double life. He promises hope and healing not on a whim but on the premise of the blood of the cross. Dear friends, the miracle of His grace means that He receives us not as the people we pretend to be- pious enough to save face publicly- but as the people we really are. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”3
There are no exceptions and no exclusions. No one is too fragile for Christ’s gentleness. No one too scarred for His restorative power. There is no one so far from the church that His arm cannot reach him. There is no one in such darkness that His light cannot find him. No one is so hardened that Christ cannot soften him. God has His time, His ways; His means.
But patience isn’t a particularly common virtue among us. We always want a quick fix; an easy solution. And we’re taught to believe that this can not only magically happen but that we even deserve it. It’s like the man from the back woods of Tennessee who went to the big city and found himself for the first time standing outside of an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on, and the doors closed. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched smartly off. The father quickly yelled to his youngest son, "Billy, go get mother."
There are no quick fixes for real sinners. To expect instant cures shows we do not understand the complexity and depth of the problem. But our Physician of bodies and Curator of souls is equal to the need. He didn’t come to only own our sin, He assumed our humanity. Christ is not a personal or family counselor; He is the head of the family. He took to Himself our flesh and blood as the Second Adam so that our reconciliation to the Father would be achieved by one who stood in solidarity with sinners. Therefore His love is not incidental it is resident. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”4
And here He abides through His word and sacraments. The baptismal river that first drowned your sinful nature still flows. The cleansing water of the font still washes away your transgressions. It forgives. It heals. It restores. It does so by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Christian lives between the font and the altar. The Psalmist writes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”5 In a secular, mundane and evil world the holy God dines joyfully with His people.
Who sets the table at your house? Perhaps no one sets the table at all because your family, or your children or grandchildren seldom or rarely have meals together. Life in the family of believers is different. Christ sets the table for us. For food He offers Himself. He is life-giving bread. Immortality flows through the blood of His veins. He is the host and He is the meal.
Dear friends, the Scripture says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”6 Rest assured on this Ash Wednesday that hope is not deferred. Yes, life involves the accumulation of scars. We are a wounded people. But our wounded Saviour is more than up to the task. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”7The time of ashes is temporary. The resurrected life is eternal. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Joel 2:12-13
2 Isaiah 1:5-6
3 Matthew 9:12-13
4 John 1:14
5 Psalm 23:5
6 Proverbs 13:12
7 Isaiah 53:5
5 March 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt