February 17, 2010
The Rev. Leslie Chadwick
Homily for Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2010
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!” I doubt that the prophet Joel’s alarm sounded as domestic as this one! But then again, Joel knows that “alarm bells aren’t just external...[There are] internal and more personal alarms, too” (Anne Turner, Ash Wednesday, 2007). Joel’s people are starting to fall back into complacency, and Joel wants to wake them up to what matters most. He is on fire with a sense of urgency. His people have just experienced two devastating natural catastrophes: a locust plague and a desert windstorm that created a great drought (Stephen L. Cook, The Apocalyptic Literature, 105). These events raised basic questions for Joel: “Why are we here if we are only dust?” “If there is a God, does he have the power to save us?” “Can he make everything right again in the end?” Joel concludes not only that will God deliver his people from their current crisis; God’s plan is to make all things whole and new at the end of time. Joel has a powerful vision of how this moment will look. God will pour out his spirit on all people and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32). Joel is overwhelmed by God’s mercy and goodness and wants to wake his people up. He says, “Recognize your total dependency on God’s mercy (2:13)! Let it change your life! Live authentic, whole lives! Be fully engaged in community and in worship! Welcome all people! Don’t take for granted the full gift that is yours” (paraphrased from Cook, 109).
We all have excuses for why we’re too busy to live into a vision for the end times now. Some of us are busy with young children. Others are figuring out our lives in retirement. Others are planning weddings. Still others are caught up in work and in caring for family. Joel says, “Put it all aside. Stop what you are doing and get your priorities straight. This relationship with God is a gift beyond all other goods in our lives and from which all other goods flow. Put it first.” How do we begin to live full lives acknowledging our relationship with God? We come together in community. We assemble the entire congregation, the people of God. Joel continues, “Assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Acknowledge together that you are dust and that only in God lies true and everlasting life.”
Ash Wednesday, this day of ashes and dust, is an opportunity for us. It is a day when “we finally hear the alarm bells calling us to wake up to ourselves.” On this first day of Lent every year, we hear these words and shudder at their truth, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” But these words aren’t just meant to scare us. They alert us to what’s most important. Every year we are also reminded that we are more than dust. God intends for us to be more. So we come up twice to the altar, young and old, infants and retirees. Once to remember that we are dust and ash. The second time we come to be fed with Christ’s own body and blood so that we might live forever in and with him. The 2010 Forward Day by Day mediation for Ash Wednesday points out how much we need this day to be a wake-up call for us. It says, “human nature is so made that if unseen realities like God and the soul, are left to be attended to at just any time, in the hope that somehow they will be attended to at all times,…. chances are that they will not be attended to at all….If we are to move forward, we can best do it by making special efforts at special times…” Lent is the time we stop whatever we are doing and gather as God’s people. We have already made a special effort this week. What I love most about this time in our church calendar is getting to see you all three times in four days. First Sunday. Then last night at the Pancake supper (where the whole assembly of 8, 9:30, 11, young and old feasted together). And now at this service where we’ve put everything else aside to acknowledge together that God is first.
I pray that as a community, we can keep up this momentum during Lent. I pray that we will recapture the urgency of the prophets. May we hear again St. Paul’s words: “Be reconciled to God….” Not just someday. Not just when we’re less busy, but Now. “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are treated as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive!” May we wake up and claim this gift of new and everlasting life that God offers us in Jesus’ name. May we put aside the things that keep us from seeing our relationship with God as a gift above all other goods in our lives. This relationship is the good from which all other gifts flow.