Ash Wednesday–2018

FIRST READING            Joel 2:12-18

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.  Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, offerings and libations for the Lord, your God.  Blow the trumpet in Zion!  Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber.  Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, “Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them!  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”  Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.

SECOND READING                  2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2

Brothers and sisters:  We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.  Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says:  In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.  Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

GOSPEL                Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:  “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.  When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.  They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

The Prophet Joel reminds us that we should rend our hearts and not our garments in the first reading today.  Always there is a danger in Lent that we try to become spiritual athletes.  Lent is not about becoming strong but about allowing our weakness to be penetrated by the Lord.  The Lord is always gracious and merciful and wants our hearts conformed to His heart.

The second reading today is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians and reminds us to be reconciled to God!  We want to be on loving terms with God always.  God is faithful to us and we are not faithful to God.  And so we need reconciliation.  We should not be ashamed to be sinners—that is simply how we find ourselves in our human condition.  On the other hand, God has offered us His life and we should take advantage of His offer.  Lent is a time to listen to the Lord working in our hearts and in our world and seek a way to grow more deeply in His love and His purposes.

The Gospel today is from Saint Matthew and reminds us that we are seeking an interior reformation, not something to show off to others.  What we want most of all is a deep aware of God’s love for us and to return God’s love to God with joy and gladness by loving others.  It is this personal relationship with God that we seek, not the notoriety of being someone who is good or who helps everyone else.  We can be good at many levels and help others at lots of levels—and never seek the Lord.  We are invited in Lent to see God in all that we do and say and think.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip