Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
The day of dust and ashes. The day of blowing the trumpet but not beating our own drums to make a show of pious endeavors.
But why is it necessary to consider our piety?
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
It is hard not to ‘‘store up ... treasures on earth.’’ Even if those treasures are not actual goods, but rather the honors and recognition the world offers, those things are tangible in a way that heavenly treasures are not. So we cling to them and collect them and often find that our hearts are firmly attached to them. That is what the public piety is about, after all. We collect good opinions like treasures. Perhaps the worst hurt of all is to find that someone has withdrawn the good opinion they had of us.
. . . All of these things, worldly goods, praise and honors, are perishable. God wants better for the children of God than dependence on things that will ultimately fail them. So the text for Ash Wednesday calls us to repent in the true meaning of the word: to turn around. In this context, repentance becomes freeing, even joyful. – Judith Simonson
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
In the Hebrew Bible, fasting and repentance are often prescribed in times of suffering and danger or under threat of such concerns. Here the threat is not attack by a human army, but the ‘‘day of the LORD’’ and the destruction and terror it brings. – Jonathan D. Lawrence
2 Corinthians 5:20b––6:10
Paul seeks to reconcile the Corinthians to God, serving as an ‘‘ambassador for Christ.’’ In many of the readings for today, it is not the act but the motivation that counts, the way we respond to God’s gifts. So too here, he urges them ‘‘not to accept the grace of God in vain.’’
– Jonathan D. Lawrence
The discipline of Lent allows the refocusing of our spiritual life. It allows us to see clearly once again the aim and goal of serving God, which it is a joy to attain.
It calls us to ask why we pray. Jesus, as a Jew, had a very high regard for prayer. Yet we know how easy it is for prayer to become formalized, how quickly it can be just words to be said, a formula to be repeated, a mantra to be spoken. It is easy to allow our prayers to slip from being honest conversation to words used to badger God into agreeing with what we want. . .
[This day is] an opportunity to examine why we give alms. It is our response to God’s generosity and our working out of our response to that generosity. . .
Fasting draws our attention to God, to prove that penitence is real. Yet it can be used to draw attention to self, just as Jesus points out. If it is used in that way—if it is something used to show that we are clearly keeping to the rules—we’ve had our reward already, in full.
– Michael Beck
May the ashes we bear on our foreheads this day be a sign that we can be with those society so easily leaves behind. I think that in their faces we will see the Christ, the heavenly treasure that the scripture promises. – Judith E. Simonson
Jonathan D. Lawrence, an American Baptist Church ordained minister, teaches Religious Studies and Theology at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.
Judith Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Michael Beck is an Anglican parish priest in the Durham Diocese, UK, and serves as Formational Tutor for Reader Training in the Lindisfarne RTP.
Homily Service 39, no. 4 (2006): 2-12.