By Melanie Myatt
Lectionary reading for 2/22/2023: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Selected passage: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, New Living Translation
Sound the trumpet in Jerusalem!!
Raise the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let everyone tremble in fear
because the day of the Lord is upon us.
It is a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of thick clouds and deep blackness.
Suddenly, like dawn spreading across the mountains,
a great and mighty army appears.
Nothing like it has been seen before
or will ever be seen again.
That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.
Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve,
sending you a blessing instead of this curse.
Perhaps you will be able to offer grain and wine
to the Lord your God as before.
Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem!
Announce a time of fasting;
call the people together
for a solemn meeting.
Gather all the people—
the elders, the children, and even the babies.
Call the bridegroom from his quarters
and the bride from her private room.
Let the priests, who minister in the Lord’s presence,
stand and weep between the entry room to the Temple and the altar.
Let them pray, “Spare your people, Lord!
Don’t let your special possession become an object of mockery.
Don’t let them become a joke for unbelieving foreigners who say,
‘Has the God of Israel left them?’”
As a child, I struggled with holidays. The idealistic dreamer in me thought that everything about the whole day had to be absolutely perfect for the holiday to be perfect. Parents shouldn’t argue, my sister shouldn’t get mad at me, I should have the perfect outfit to wear, and the whole day should be filled with smiles and sunshine.
Maybe you can see why I was so often disappointed.
But now I view holidays–and all days, of course–differently. I can now make space for good feelings alongside some bad feelings. Maybe the meal I cook doesn’t turn out perfectly, but I am happy for those who gather around the table. Maybe one person gets a little mad at someone briefly, but there is an opportunity for forgiveness and love, and we move on.
In my old way of thinking, Ash Wednesday wouldn’t be considered a “holiday” at all. A day set aside to consider that I came from dust, and I will return to dust one day? A day to consider my fallenness as a human being? Give me the sunshine and sparkles of a day like Valentine’s Day instead..
When we read through this passage in Joel, however, I see the richness and blessing that comes from acknowledging the ugliness in our lives (verse 12) so that we can lay it down before God and experience God’s tender mercy, compassion and forgiveness, and, oh, that unfailing love (verse 13).
The holidays that I always hoped for and never experienced promised only a shell of happiness. I wanted to pretend, even for just a day, that everything in my life and my family was perfect. But it was always only a pretense, and that is why I never succeeded in having my perfect day. Our reality of shame and guilt remained under the surface no matter how smiley we tried to act. Ash Wednesday is a day for us all to name the hard reality of our sinfulness and remember that we are loved in the midst of that reality. God sees us as we really, truly are and provides a path out of that ugliness and shame.
We have leaders and representatives who do not want to model for us repentance, mourning, and grief for bad behavior, either currently, or in our nation’s past. We are experiencing a movement where our kids are protected from feeling “bad” or “sorry” for sins.
The richness and the blessing come from naming our sins, from mourning our mistakes, either as individuals or as a nation, and from finding a path toward God’s forgiveness and love. Ash Wednesday may actually be a day more about love than Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday is a day to remember that you are both imperfect and deeply loved. You came from dust, you will return to dust, and Jesus died so that you could live. Ash Wednesday is just the beginning of the Love Letter that promises that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Is there anything you have been holding onto as “unforgivable”? What would it be like to offer that up to God today and see how God responds?
Sit in stillness. Ask God for an image of God’s love for you. Rest in God’s enjoyment of you today.
God, sometimes it is hard to hold both the truth of our sinfulness and your great and amazing love for us together. Sometimes we hold more tightly to one than the other. Only by holding them both together do we begin to glimpse the depths and riches of your amazing love. As we receive the ashes today, literally or figuratively, help us also receive your forgiveness, love, and blessing. You are our great and wonderful God. Amen.
About the Author
Melanie started a new job this year as a chaplain at a retirement community, and she absolutely loves it! She is also a spiritual director, a mom of four, and Program Assistant at the C. John Weborg Center for Spiritual Direction. Melanie also writes daily Bible study questions to receive through email. If you are interested in her current study on Hosea, you can sign up here.
Download Prayerful Reflections 2023 on PDF at www.spiritualdirectionwithjulia.com/prayerful-reflections.