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.
(Joel 2:12-13 ESV)
We offer You our failures,
we offer You attempts;
The gifts not fully given,
The dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
An offering of ashes,
An offering to You.
(Ashes, verse 2, Tom Conry)
As the ashes were applied to my forehead, these words were declared over me:
“Repent and believe the gospel.”
I was jarred. I reeled with tears stinging my eyes. I followed the procession back to the pews, smarting from this direct address. Jesus spoke with piercing authority to my exposed heart.
“Do you believe the gospel?”
That was the question caught in my throat. Of course, I believe the gospel. But today, I wondered to what extent do I believe the gospel? Hard questions. Questions that will deliver me into the season of Lent.
Lent, like Advent, is a season of fasting punctuated by a feast. Lent culminates in the Paschal mystery, the resurrection of the Lamb. Advent gestates and leads us to the birth of Emmanuel: Jesus, the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world. A scapegoat who will die outside the city, in order to reunite us with our Father.
When I returned home, the beginning of answer greets me in this quote,
“Looking at myself in the mirror I see the ashes not as death,
but transformation in the fire of love.”
(Patricia Livingston, Turning Our Hearts to God)
The gospel is fiery, transforming love.
Will I open myself to the love that pours from His Word today?
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