Ash Wednesday

Rend Your Hearts

Text: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (NRSV)

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.

12 Yet even now, says the Lordreturn to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

“Blow the trumpet in Zion!” So starts the prophet Joel. So often these words signal something great. So often these words are accompanied by the “Amen!” of God’s people for we know that with the blowing of the trumpet in Zion, our Lord comes! Yet Joel continues, “Sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!”[1] Do we really want the day of the Lord to come?

Turn, repent, remember—these are the words given to us by the prophet Joel. These are the words of Lent. These are the words of Ash Wednesday. Today, many people will gather in solemn assembly, and they will march forward step by step to receive ashes on their heads.

They will hear the stark truth of reality in the words, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Some people will simply take time this day to remember what the season of Lent is all about. Whatever observance you participate in, remember these words, “You are dust.”

But so often we live our lives as though we were something greater than the dust God used to create us—as if we are the progenitors of our own reality. That’s why we need prophets like Joel to remind us to turn, repent, and remember.

That’s why it’s important for the Church to observe seasons like Lent. In our observance, we are forced to come to terms with our mortality and our utter dependence on God. “Remember, you are dust……”

“You are dust.” It amazes me that the season of Lent is during a time when we are witnessing the budding of new life all around us as Winter gives way to Spring. Trees budding, eggs hatching, flowers blooming. All this life, and yet we are reminded in this Lenten season that we will return one day to the ground from which we were created. All this new life, but we are called to death—death of self, death to things that would take the place of God in our lives. But isn’t this just how the Holy Spirit works?

It seems that new life always comes through the ashes of something previous—something less than what God desires for us. That was Joel’s message to God’s people. It’s Joel’s message to the Church today and during this season of Lent. “You are dust.” But that’s right where God wants you to be.

So how do we really hear this truth? Joel, as the mouthpiece of God, tells us that we are to rend our hearts, not our garments. God cares nothing for what we can show outwardly if our hearts are not in tune with what God wants to do in us. Turn, repent, remember.

Remember that you are dust. You are ashes. But new life can come through the ashes of something previous. Through the hovering of the Holy Spirit, new life can come even in the face of death. Surely this is what Joel was trying to get the people of God to see. Surely this is what Jesus knew: the death of self is the path to the resurrection and the life.

[1] Joel 2:1-2a, NRSV

Rev. Joshua Fite – Fort Mill Church of the Nazarene – Fort Mill, SC