Ash Wednesday

February 14, 2018

Watch for themes of confession, fasting and other acts of penitence. In both Joel and Isaiah, a “trumpet” could be sounded, either a modern trumpet or a ram’s horn/shofar.


Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – The prophet proclaims the time of the Lord’s coming! Even as that strikes fear in their hearts, the prophet, familiar with his people’s acts of contrition, calls them to “rend your hearts and not your clothing.” Fast, gather together the old and the young, get ready, says the prophet. Centuries later, an apt way to begin Lent

Isaiah 58:1-12 – This prophet also presumes the sinfulness of the people, especially those who protest before God that their religious practices are sufficient, why then does the Lord not take them into account? Isaiah “calls them out” as those whose religious forms do not match the faithful living from which they should arise… and for the preacher, gives plenty of examples!

Psalm 51:1-17 – Many Bibles have a superscription at the beginning of this psalm that says, A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Whether read in that specific context or in the broadest context of the whole of humanity, the psalm articulates the brokenness experienced by the sinner. It is a prayer for restoration, prayed in fear: “Do not cast me away from your presence…” For the preacher, there are universal touchstones throughout the psalm, a psalm that pleas for restoration of right relationship with God.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 – St Paul’s plea for “reconciliation” with God. He holds up himself (the editorial “we”?) as an example of enduring all things for the sake of God, staying true to God in spite of everything. The preacher might explore Paul’s heroics in remaining faithful to the gospel, and the challenge in modernity to do the same.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – From the midst of The Sermon on the Mount comes this “primer” for good spiritual practices, offered over against the more common practices in Jesus’ culture. Beyond the public/private practices is the deeper issue of our motivations, our own hearts: are we doing these things to please God or to please others? One might also examine the way public alms-giving by the wealthy would contrast with the more modest generosity of the poor, emphasizing a divide between them.