Ash Wednesday, Year A

Inspired by Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 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.”  Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)

Our society emphasizes tolerance and self-esteem.  No one is to judge another person, and all beliefs and choices are of equal value.  To claim differently is to be seen as intolerant.

These are all good things.  Rigid conformity to arbitrary standards has caused much damage over the years, and it’s true that none of us was put on this earth to judge another person.  We each have our own individual gifts to discover and use according to our own situations and callings.

But the down side to all this is the inability to acknowledge we might have gone astray.  If we turn to the Lord our God and discern that we’ve squandered the gifts he’s given us or used them to the detriment of his gospel, the relativism of our society objects to such harsh judgments and seeks to justify our actions.  We’re told we must feel better about ourselves and improve our self-esteem.  Not only are we not allowed to judge others, we’re not allowed to judge ourselves.  And since we’re expected to see ourselves as perpetually ‘OK’ and justified, we can never critically evaluate our choices and recognize our faults.

God’s mercy and steadfast love frees us from the need to constantly justify ourselves.  We don’t have to present ourselves to him as perfect, because he already knows we’re not.  We don’t have to maintain some outward appearance of confidence and perfection, because he knows our inner brokenness, will grieve with us for the harm we’ve caused ourselves and others, and will heal us with his mercy and his grace.

Let yourself recognize your faults, your weaknesses, and yes, even your sins.  The world might want to pretend there’s no such thing, but only when we acknowledge sin’s existence can we hope to be freed from it.  Turn to the Lord your God, and let him offer you his forgiveness and healing.

Let us pray.  Merciful God, you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Open our eyes to our own sins, that we be cleansed by your forgiveness and renewed in your grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.