Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
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February 22nd, 2012 – Ashes and Joy

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.’ 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?” Joel 2:12-14

Devotional Thought For The Day

These verses have been read in Christian churches on Ash Wednesday for several centuries, initiating the season of Lent.  The word “Lent” comes from Old English and signifies the coming of spring, literally the “lengthening” of daylight hours. The season of Lent consists of “forty weekdays lasting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, observed as a time of penance and fasting commemorating Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness.” [Free Dictionary]

Note the contrast between external observable behavior, and what the LORD God truly desires and invites us to participate in. Real repentance is never a superficial “maneuver” designed to get God off or our backs, like the little child who thinks “I’m sorry” is the magical incantation to avoid punishment but isn’t really sorry at all. No, real repentance is a matter of “rending” one’s heart, a ripping and tearing apart of our inner arrogance, our rebellious sin, our assertion of independence from God, our despising of His Word, our lack of faith and our devotion to immorality. So also the season of Lent is an intense “heart matter,” and it is utterly shameful that people even within the church make it something superficial, an outward religious sham preceded by partying, drunkenness, immorality, and gluttony – with no real changes within, no change of heart.  Lord, have mercy!

Again, such genuine repentance is not principally an external thing, but rather the outward “fasting, weeping, and mourning” only reflect the inner reality of a heart rent in contrition and sorrow over sin, a heart turned to God for forgiveness, mercy, cleansing, and restoration. Nor does such “repenting” earn or merit anything from God – rather it acknowledges utter dependence upon God for gracious mercy, forgiveness and love. It is based in faith and true knowledge of God, that “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” So our hearts, though deeply pained in repentance, are comforted and healed with the assurance of God’s gracious mercy and forgiveness, provided for us in the suffering, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

Some churches practice “the imposition of ashes” on Ash Wednesday, before the divine service. The sign of the cross is made in ashes on people’s foreheads with the words, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” a recital of God’s own Word of judgment to Adam in the Garden [Gen. 3:19], the pronouncement of the sentence of physical death, reminding us that we too are going the way of all the earth [Josh 23:14]. But then we enter God’s sanctuary and are given God’s glorious promises of gracious mercy, forgiveness, and love – and true to His Word God gives us “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” [Is. 61:3], and so our faith and trust in His love is strengthened and our hearts are healed and made strong once again.

I’m not sure there has ever been a time in America, or in other countries around the world, where this invitation from God to real and genuine repentance has been more necessary or poignant. We stand under judgment, and without repentance and faith and renewal of heart and spirit, God’s strong hand must soon fall upon us. The promise of our text, that God “relents over disaster,” is the only hope or comfort that we have, but it is tied to repentance and faith. So let us not only rend our hearts in repentance, and rejoice by faith in the “good news” of forgiveness and mercy, but let us also pray God to grant the same to our fellow citizens, and to people everywhere!

Prayer For The Day

Dear Lord Jesus, touch our hearts and minds that we have inner honesty and integrity, and in view of our sin and guilt, move us to rend our hearts in repentance. Forbid that we engage in superficial and hypocritical outward piety that leaves our hearts untouched and unchanged. Thank You for all that You have done for us to secure forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life for us. Relent, and have mercy, O Lord. Amen.