A Homily for Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2018
(Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-21)
Lent is a time of repentance. A season set aside for turning back to Christ. This is not to say that we cannot return to God at other times. Lent simply insures that we, at least annually, intentionally focus on God’s invitation to return to the one in who’s image we are created.
Of course, such a time can be embraced negatively. Lent conjures up images of forty-day hunt for any hidden guilt or sin. Gifts we give thanks for at other times are often given up. A chocolate or wine free season. Fasting, we may think, is about momentarily giving up things we like.
There is, however, an array of images in these texts that may help us understand the opportunity of repentance much more positively.
To be sure, our Isaiah passage begins with a warning. Fasting can be empty and meaningless. Mere religiosity. This is, however, not the only possibility. The fast that God chooses holds so much more hope. Listen to Isaiah again:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:8).
We so easily hear this as undoing the oppressive straps around others who are less fortunate than us. Yet ‘wickedness’ affects us all. It binds and imprisons us all. A season of fasting is an intentional ‘loosing’, ‘undoing’, and ‘breaking’ of these ‘bonds’, ‘straps’, and ‘yokes’. You are not permanently bound by your sin. Lent insists that you are not stuck.
Our Psalm too sees David praying after the infamous Bathsheba incident. Adultery. Murder. A cover-up. He is running and denying. After Nathan the prophet spoke, David had the good sense to cease this fleeing. In this turning-back psalm he seeks a washing, cleansing, and a purging. Why? because he wants to know ‘joy’ and ‘gladness’. He wants to be restored. God wants to give a new start. Once again, David is not stuck. Neither are you.
No wonder Paul can write of the invitation to ‘be reconciled to God’ as a ‘favourable time’. ‘Now,’ he says, ‘is the day of salvation’. The Good News is that, in Jesus, the path is open for you to find your greatest fulfilment in relationship with your Creator and God’s creation.
And this, I would suggest, is the reward of ‘…your Father who sees in secret’. There is no need for empty religious displays to impress other people here. God sees. God knows. God desires to reward you with the love you were created to enjoy.
So the question of Lent is simply: Do you want to know more of God’s reward?
May you know more deeply the loving reward of God as you journey with him through this hope-saturated season.