Bread – Ashes

March 9, 2011


Readings for Wednesday, March 9, designated by the Book of Common Prayer: Jonah 3:1-4:11; Heb.12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14; Psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, 143

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the day where many go to church to have ashes put on their forehead to remind those people and us who see it that we were born in sin, we live in sin, and that we need to repent in, to used Old Testament terms, “sackcloth and ashes.” It is the day which begins the season of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and study as we anticipate and wait for Christ’s death on the cross for those very sins and His resurrection from the dead (Easter).

As a result, our readings today have to do with our sin, our repentance, and God’s miraculous mercy.

We begin with Nineveh in Jonah, a large city steeped in sin. Jonah is sent to that city to preach a coming calamity upon the city, God’s judgment upon the people and the city of their and its sin. Jonah thought that he would preach sin and coming catastrophe and that would be the end of the story. However, an amazing thing happened. When the people of Nineveh heard the Word of God, they turned from their sin, repented, declared a fast, and put on sackcloth to admit their sins before God and to repent from those sins, turning away from the world and toward God. Then an even more amazing thing happened because “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.” Jonah 3:10. In other words, God had mercy.

In the same reported history, we see the reaction of Jonah, the prophet, to this outpouring of God’s mercy upon those who repent. He was mad (because he didn’t like the Ninevites) and he went over into the corner and pouted, angry with God because God did not do what Jonah wanted Him to do. To add insult to injury, while Jonah was over in the corner pouting God sent him shade to protect him against the sun and then later removed the shade so Jonah would get hot. The Lord, however, reminded Jonah that he had no right to get angry about either Nineveh or the loss of his shade. God pointed out that Jonah had nothing to do with either, and that God’s mercy would be exercised according to God’s will and not Jonah’s will or desires or preferences.

There is a profound lesson in Ash Wednesday. It is not only a lesson in the ugliness of the world (Nineveh) and our own pride and selfishness (Jonah), in the abject poverty of our state of sin, and in the coming wrath of God, it is also a lesson in our role, once we have heard the message – repent and turn from our evil ways toward God. The rest is up to God and He will exercise His mercy upon whom He will have mercy.

And who is that, who is it upon whom God will have mercy? I don’t know the answer to that question, because I am not God. However, I do know this – repentance in sackcloth and ashes begins the journey toward the cross of Christ and through that cross to the resurrection and eternal glory for those upon whom God has given the gift of trust, of belief, in Jesus Christ. The day of ashes, Ash Wednesday, leads to eternal life.

Are you today caught up in sin, in disobedience to God’s commands, in hardness of heart, in anger, in hopelessness, in misery, in addiction, in yourself? Take this day to hear God’s Word just like the Ninevites did a long time ago and people throughout the generations have done, kneel before the Lord your God and repent in sackcloth and ashes, recognizing that we have no hope except for God’s mercy, and then look forward to the cross where God’s mercy was shown to us by the visiting of His wrath upon Himself, Jesus Christ.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The words of Jesus Christ from Luke 18:14b.

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