Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday 2013

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

A new season of Lent should never be redundant but should always be greeted eagerly and embraced with a renewed sense of purpose because we are offered, and encouraged to, a renewed sense of reconnecting to or strengthening that better part of ourselves, the Divine Image in which we are all created - and cast aside all that stands between the flesh and the Spirit; remembering what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law - indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (8:6-8)

We are reminded on Ash Wednesday that who we think we are (that is, our mortal bodies and carnal minds) is that part of us which will one day return to the state from which we all come: dust, when our mortal bodies are buried.  So we should be mindful of the eternal moment when humanity received the "Divine breath" which gave enduring life to that flesh.  When our Lord calls us to come forward "with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning" as the prophet Joel proclaims, we seek to allow our Lord to "breathe" upon us once again New Life into dead flesh.  We submit and recommit ourselves to the Lord our God who is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" those who repent of the flesh and seek the Spirit of the Living and Eternal God (Joel 2:12-13).

But we come forward and present ourselves to our Holy Father NOT because He is about to strike and smite and punish but "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God".  We come before our Holy Father in this solemn occasion, yes, to be called into a state of awareness of the sin in our lives and an appreciation of the damage this sin inflicts on the mind, the body, and the soul; but we also come before our Holy Father mindful of the blessings He eagerly intends to bestow on His people as He reveals to the prophet Malachi: "Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts ... Bring the full tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house, and thus put Me to the test, say the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing" (Malachi 3:7b, 10).

We must remember, however, that what the Lord is asking of us goes beyond that mere 10% we've been conditioned to offer; and although we can and should certainly offer to the Lord's Church that tithe He does command, just as Jesus teaches (Matthew 23:23), it is the life devoted to that tithe, that "holy and living sacrifice", which the Lord seeks and intends to restore. 

When we let go of that portion without fear and without doubt, we also let go of that "flesh" which "cannot please God"; that flesh which is "hostile to God", that "flesh" which always chooses first what is personally pleasing and comfortable with no mind or thought toward our Holy God.  The people of Christ's Holy Church must rise above the complacency that "getting saved" somehow automatically shields us from the temptations we continue to face as long as we draw breath "in the flesh", as long as we choose to continue living "according to the flesh" and the flesh's desires. 

We are reminded by Messiah's experience in the wilderness that the evil one is very aware of our weak moments when we are most likely to succumb to anything that will give us pleasure or comfort our "flesh" but can ultimately lead our spirit AWAY from the Lord rather than TO Him. 

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus speaks of those "flesh-pleasing" things that even when done correctly, can still be done for the wrong reasons if we forget who it is we are first called to serve; if we forget that absent the "Divine Breath of Life", we are only "dust".  And this is what the discipline of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday, seeks to accomplish.  There must be a renewed sense of humility in remembering that even in our darkest moments of sinful awareness, it is still not about "us"; it is about our Lord and His mercy.  Even in our most glorious moments of blessings received, it is still not about "us"; it is about our Lord and His purpose.

On Ash Wednesday we are called forth in fasting and repentance to cast aside our flesh, surrender to the reality of the "dust" to which our mortal bodies will one day return, and reconnect to that blessed moment when our Lord speaks to His Holy Church in an unmistakable proclamation as our flesh falls but our spirit is raised by the Mighty Hand of our Eternal God and Father: TODAY, says the Lord, YOU ARE MINE!  REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL!

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

No comments: