Ash Wednesday (March 1) Sermon

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For Ash Wednesday 2017
Based on Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Psalm 51, and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Lent is a time of paradoxes. Over and over again in Lent we’re asked to hold two truthful things together, two things that do not cancel each other out, but these two things cannot be reconciled.

We are asked to be diligent by giving up those things which distract us from being faithful, and we are not to look sorrowful or sad because they are not part of our lives. We are asked to fast and to encourage one another in acts of faith, and yet we are to keep those acts secret even from one another so that we do not run the risk of boasting about how good we are.

We are told to expect the Day of the Lord, the time when the Messiah will return, when we will see Christ come again, and we are also told to remain diligent on our tasks as people of faith because we cannot know when the Day of the Lord will occur. We are to look forward to the day of judgment at the end of time, a time when God’s justice will be handed out, when some will be punished and others rewarded; and yet we are told to be cautious in hoping for that day because we cannot be sure on which side we will be: the side that justice decrees needs correction and punishment or the side that is granted reward through grace.

We are told to admit to God we do not always know God’s presence, and we are also told that we are to always seek God’s presence.

We are asked to be sincere in examining ourselves, sincere in naming our sins, sincere in committing ourselves to do better, and at the same time to not succumb to somber unhappiness – instead we are to live with joyous exuberance because we are seeking the presence of God.

On Ash Wednesday the dark crosses borne on our foreheads remind us of the paradoxes of faith. We were created by God with a potential to make bad decisions as well as good ones.

We pause on our way to an encounter with God to assess the substance of our lives. God is eager for us to travel a new direction, and will help us make the turn setting us in the right direction. God longs for and patiently waits for the moment when all people will experience the Day of the Lord as the beginning of an eternal festival of light and joy.

So, as we become marked people, let us allow the crosses that mark us enable us to walk confidently with a quiet joy, even when thoughts concerning the cost of our repentance and salvation cause us to walk somberly.