Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Raised from the Ashes

+ Ash Wednesday, 2011 +
Text: Joel 2:12-19; Matthew 6:1-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

            Run through the city.  Blow the trumpet in Zion.  Proclaim the fast.  Gather the people.  The season of Lent is here.  The altar is black…soon to be purple.  40 days.  Fasting and penitence.  Farewell to the Alleluia…for now.  We go down from the Mountain of Transfiguration with the disciples into the Valley of the Shadow of death.
            For some this is a gloomy, grumpy, sighing season.  Time to give something up.  Time to make a big pious show of repentance: disfigured faces, grumpy and gloomy, almost sad and angry.  That’s Lent for the Pharisees – they darkened their faces with ash to shine the spotlight on their repentance.  “Look at me!  It’s Lent and I’m grumpy and gloomy and fasting.  Is that your Lent?  I’m sorry, but you and the Pharisees have both missed the point.
            But so have those who deny the sacrificial, somber solemnity of Lent.  “We need to tone down all this talk about sin and repentance or temptation and suffering – that’s not very popular you know.”  No one wants to visit a church where they talk about crucifixions and ashes and death all the time.  That’s just a Pharisee of a different color.
            No wonder Ash Wednesday – and Lent - clash with the world and our Old Adam: we’re not in Paradise anymore.  The road to the cross is laid before us, but more importantly, before Jesus our Lord.  Good Friday, at the end of Lent, is the commemoration of Jesus’ death and burial.  Ash Wednesday is the commemoration of our death and burial.  Today the words God spoke to Adam are spoken to us: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  We are not here to celebrate our death – anymore than a funeral is a celebration of life – that victory feast is yet to come; the night will soon be ending.
            But today is a grim reminder of the reality of death.  Ash Wednesday is many days rolled into one:  Today we are forced out of Paradise with Adam and Eve.  Today we hear the preaching of Noah and Jonah that the world cannot ignore God without incurring disaster and penalty.  Today we sit with Job in the ash-heap comforting ourselves with comfortless words, “we brought nothing into this world and shall take nothing out.”  Today we pray and fast with David, mourning over the death of his infant son and his elder son Absalom, knowing that by ourselves we cannot create life anymore than we can preserve life.  We simply cannot escape ourselves.
            Unless we die with Christ now – today – we cannot be raised with Him at Easter.  Without Ash Wednesday, Easter is meaningless.  Unless there is sorrow over sin, there is no joy in resurrection.  Run through the city.  Proclaim a fast.  Put aside all pretence and boasting.  Rend your hearts and not your garments.  Perhaps the God who condemns our sin will also raise us up.
            Fasting is good. We should fast.  We should give up what we love most; give up whatever gets in the way of Christ.  But don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing – because the moment we advertise what we’re fasting from, we’ve missed the point.
            It’s not just giving up your favorite coffee or chocolate.  Give up whatever is in the way of Christ.  Give up your sins. Give them up now. Give up your idols--your treasures that make your day, the things you fear, love and trust above God.  Give up your dark clouds and gloom, your disfigured Pharisee-faces. Wash your ashen face with baptismal joy this Lenten season.  Yes, happiness in Lent.  Christ has come to pry the sin – the sins you try so hard to keep - out of your cold dead hands.  Jesus comes and gives Himself up for Lent for you who won’t give up your sin without a fight.  It’s a battle He enters willingly, lovingly – taking your sin and death forever.
            That’s why today – and every day - our hope is in God who comes in our own flesh and blood – the God-man Jesus Christ – He comes with His flesh and blood.    Today we set our faces toward Jerusalem.  Lent is more than purple and soup suppers; more than fasting and giving things up.  Lent is Jesus rebuking Satan’s temptation in wilderness, Jesus raised up like Moses’ bronze serpent, Jesus pouring out living water for Samaritans and Jews alike, Jesus anointing the blind in mud and water, Jesus raising and unbinding the dead.  Jesus dying and rising again – all for you.  Where His treasure is, there His heart will also be, forever.
            Christ has defeated the evil foe – crushed; look upon the glory of God found nailed to a cursed tree; Christ pours out His living water from His side to His font to cover you in living water, never shall you thirst again; Christ anoints you – for the cross of ashes is not the most important cross inscribed on your forehead; in fact you can wash the ashes off in a clear conscience – even before you go home - for Christ has already washed all of your death away; drained into His tomb forever; there’s no need to run around like a disfigured-faced-Pharisee.
            Yes, even in Lent there is joy – you are marked with a better cross – Jesus’ blood and water, traced upon your forehead and your heart; you are baptized, His “little Christs,” His little “anointed ones;” and in those waters He drowns you and raises you up again in Him, in His death.  In His life. 

            In Christ’s death and resurrection you are raised from the ashes, like a phoenix, only better – holy and righteous in His sight – raised from the ashes in Baptism; raised from your ashes on the Day of Resurrection.  For many things will whither and fade in this life, the stuff will burn and perish – dust you are and to dust you shall return –but there’s one thing – or rather – someone who doesn’t whither, fade or turn to dust, a Savior who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
            Maybe you’ve come to Ash Wednesday with fear, anxiety, worry, grief or illness – come to the foot of His cross, kneel, be fed; take eat, take drink.  There is no burden you can bring to His altar that He hasn’t already borne for you; no sin, grief or sorrow for which He hasn’t already died.  He comes to sit with you in the ash heap and to take your sin and death with Him to Jerusalem.  To rescue, redeem and rise again.
So Rejoice.  Run through the city.  Blow the trumpet in Zion.  Proclaim the fast.  Gather the people.  Christ Crucified is yours.  Baptism is yours.  His body and blood are yours to feed and nourish you throughout these 40 days.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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