A Word to Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-13 — 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 God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
The biblical book of Joel one of the strangest books in the Old Testament. It tells the story a catastrophic invasion of locusts. A scourge of locusts was so frightful that the prophet Joel visualized it as a symbol for the coming day of the Lord – like a judgment day. In the face of this coming judgment day, Joel directs the people Israel to stop what they are doing, come together as a congregation of people, and begin repentance and fasting.
The prophet Joel is calling them to an inconvenience – a life-saving inconvenience – a holy inconvenience. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me.” Even now, when you have so many pressures and concerns, so much to tend to and take care of, so much to figure out. Even now….
Ash Wednesday leads us into the season of Lent. Lent is shaped by the words of Joel. Lent is a holy inconvenience; a time for intentional reflection, self-assessment, and return to the Lord our God.
As the pandemic was raging in 2020, a pastor in our synod sent me a copy of a book that this pastor had found to be “a really good read”: Diary of a Pastor’s Soul by M. Craig Barnes. Yes, the book is geared to pastors, but I think that lay congregational leaders would find it enriching as well. Near the end, the “pastor” writing this “diary” comes up with this essential job description, “Pay attention to the holy, and other duties as assigned.”
I do not know what pressures you are under right now. I do not know what demands, burdens, concerns, responsibilities you are juggling. I do not know what other duties you are assigned. Whatever these are, let Lent give you permission to pay attention to the holy. Even now – even now – return to the LORD your God, for God is gracious and merciful.