February 14, 2018
All DayCategory: Adult Education
Scripture: Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
Hope in the Ashes
Many churches observe the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, with a service that includes the imposition of ashes. Fronds that were used on Palm Sunday to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry are burned, and their ashes used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of each worshiper. As the minister marks each person with ash, he or she says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” One of the most chilling moments of my life was during an Ash Wednesday service when I said those words to my teenage son as I placed ashes on his sweet forehead.
Nothing symbolizes loss and destruction like ashes. Ashes are what is left after fire has devastated dreams. At the end of last year, news reports of wild fires in California showed weeping home owners standing in front of piles of ash that only hours before had been the home of their dreams. Trailer parks and mega mansions all looked the same once reduced to ash.
The book of Joel opens by telling of a plague of locusts that would devastate Israel as thoroughly as wild fires devastated parts of California. Even more threatening than the physical destruction that was coming was the destruction that those disasters could wreak on the human spirit. When all seems lost, hope can die. When all looks hopeless, it can be hard to see any reason to live other than to get the most for yourself before everything turns to dust and ash.
Lent is a time to remember that all we have, even life itself, one day turns to ash. That reality would be too horrible to bear if not for the character of God, which Joel describes as gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God created the universe from nothing. That same loving power raised the lifeless body of Jesus from death. All the losses and failures we encounter do not change the character of God, who loves us and cares for us and sustains us even in death.
Knowing that death and ashes are no match for God’s love, we can face the truth of our own weakness and shortcomings. We can be honest with ourselves and with God about the ways we turn from the God of life. We know that however we have failed God, God will not fail us. We can confess our sins because we are forgiven. We can face death because in Christ we know the God of life.
Prayer: God of unchanging mercy, give us courage to see our need for you. Renew our hope in Christ, whose love for us is greater than our weakness. We pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen.