Ash Wednesday

17 February 2021

Readings

Joel 2, 1-2; 12-17

 

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
  sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
  for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
  a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
  a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
  nor will be again after them
  in ages to come.

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.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
  and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain-offering and a drink-offering
  for the Lord, your God?


Blow the trumpet in Zion;
  sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
  gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
  assemble the aged;
gather the children,
  even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
  and the bride her canopy.

2 Corinthians 5: 20b-6:10

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
  and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

 

‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Sermon
Marian Bond

I wonder what has prompted you to take a glance at these words? Did the term, Ash Wednesday, remind you that this is a significant point in the Christian year, one that should not be missed? Did it remind you of other Ash Wednesdays when we have been able to gather in church and receive the ashes, produced by burning last year’s palm crosses, as symbols of penitence? 

 

At the very least, in our gospel passage, we have read the heart of Jesus’ message.   Jesus repeats it three times “Your father who sees in secret will reward you.”        

 

Jesus Christ knows that His heavenly Father can see right into our hearts.  At this time, on this very solemn and holy day in the Christian year, I can assure you that God can see through all our outward appearances. 

 

The prophet Joel lived at a time when Judah was experiencing terrible drought and, worse still, was being invaded by a plague or army of locusts. The people were being urged to repent.  Their desperation would lead them to mourn, to fast and to tear their clothes but the crucial thing was whether their hearts were turned to the Lord. The very act of turning to the Lord meant that their relationship with God changed and they would discover that the Lord “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  

 

We may not be tearing our clothes.  We may not be weeping.  Maybe, though, our hearts feel heavy.  This past year has brought so much sadness, worry and loneliness.  Spending so much time without our usual distractions may well have brought things to mind that we do not generally think about in “normal” life.  That said, we may well have felt the need to repent and to receive forgiveness.

 

It is so good, indeed, we may say, essential for us as Christians that we are reminded of what God has done for us by sending His only Son to die for us, so that we might be truly forgiven.  In Jesus’ death, God made his sinless Son take our sins upon Him.  This meant that all our shortcomings would be made right with God.  This verse from Stuart Townend’s hymn, “How deep the Father’s love for us” puts the basis for our faith in a nutshell.

 

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.

 

As the hymn says, there is no logic in boasting about anything we have done.  Everything stems from what Jesus has done for us.  At this present time, we have been asked in numerous ways to give to the needy. Jesus told His disciples that they should not boast about what they were giving.  No more should we.

 

Jesus encouraged His disciples to pray but, again, not to do this ostentatiously.  He told them that they should go into their room, shut the door and pray to their Father in secret. In the same way, we may have given something up for Lent but there is no need to advertise the fact.

 

If almsgiving, prayer and fasting are known only to God, we may well find that the blessing that He gives far outweighs any boost to our morale we imagined we might receive from our fellow human beings.

 

As Jesus says, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

 

Amen

THE COLLECT

 

Almighty and everlasting God,

you hate nothing that you have made

and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:

create and make in us new and contrite hearts

that we, worthily lamenting our sins

and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may receive from you, the God of all mercy,

perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Amen