An Ash Wednesday Meditation from Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
I’m struck by the contrast in these two texts.
Joel commands them to blow the trumpet and gather the people to weep and fast. Publicly. Loudly.
Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel warns people against blowing trumpets and practicing piety in public.
Which is it? To blow or not blow the trumpets?
In Joel, there is a disaster upon the land. Fires, droughts, locusts, and failed crops are highlighted in chapter 1. All of creation is in upheaval and at risk. All of the inhabitants are to pay attention. All of them. For the Day of the Lord is coming.
In much of Hebrew literature, the Day of the Lord was expected to be a good thing. When God would come and vindicate Israel, putting the other nations in their place and showing them what happens to people who oppose God’s chosen people.
So Joel’s congregation would have been startled by Joel’s description of the Day of the Lord. A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. This is not how they envisioned the coming of the Lord. This Day of the Lord is not, uniformly, good news.
But there is still hope.
Yet, even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.
With all of their hearts, they are called to return to the Lord. This is not a casual decision, or half-hearted. And they are to return to the Lord not just by rending their clothing, or other external signs. They are called to rend, to tear open their very hearts.
To rip open the scars that have closed over old wounds, keeping us from the healing we need to experience.
We are to cast open the windows, let in the light, and air out the dusty chambers of our hearts where our prejudices live shadowed in darkness and away from reflection.
We are to tear away the protective enclosures we’ve built around our hearts to keep away the pains of the world.
We are supposed to see what is broken in the world and in our lives and weep over it.
We are supposed to feel things deeply in our hearts, but too often we choose to live shallowly, allowing the pain of the world to just scratch the surface. We try to “let it go”, but we can’t. We need to “let it in”. (Thanks Julia, for that insight.)
Joel says to blow the trumpet to wake the people up. To remind them that they are to be upset by the injustices they see, the calamities in the world, and are to really feel it, so that we can change it.
Joel needed the people to come together—to corporately own that their behavior, as a people, has brought about plague and disaster and is not what the world needs. He calls them to come together to return to the Lord, as a people.
I’m grateful for that reminder in Joel of our connectedness, one to another. We come together in praise and worship. We come together in confession and brokenness. We acknowledge how all of our lives take place in the context of our lives as followers of God and members of the Body of Christ.
Jesus would not be opposed to Joel’s call to sound the trumpets. He only warns us not to sound the trumpets in the service of our own image.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.”
Seeking praise for our faith practices is another way of living shallow lives—hoping that what we show on the surface will be enough and will keep people from asking the deeper questions.
How are you?
No, how are you?
I’m struck by how difficult it is to live deeply, and to be connected. It involves being vulnerable and opening yourself to pain. It involves asking for help and acknowledging when all is not as we wish it were—both in our lives and in the world.
Rending our hearts is not for sissies.
Lent is a call to reclaim an intentional way of living together and living deeply.
“Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.”
As we enter this Lenten journey, we will take on the mark of the cross on our foreheads, wearing the ashes of our repentance and signs of our broken hearts out into the world, not as public displays of our faithfulness, but as public displays of our torn open hearts.
From dust you are, and to dust you shall return, is something we acknowledge both about our individual lives and our corporate life together. We are a part of God’s creation. Created out of the earth, connected to the earth and to each other. We come together to acknowledge our dependence on God the Creator, in whose hands our lives are resting securely. Thanks be to God.