Ash Wednesday 2010

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-19

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

Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?”

You are here, according to your promise. You are for us in Your Body broken and Your Blood out-poured, put together again, for us, for the forgiveness of sins, for our reconciliation, our peace, our unity with You. Why should the people say of us, “Where is their God?” You are here, as You have been since the Night in which we failed, when we betrayed You, when we chose the other side. You did not fail us. You chose our side. For you are steadfast and faithful and do not change. You are here.

Why then should they say of us, “Where is their God?” They might say it because we’ve lived as if You were not here, as though You could not see, or had no power to intervene, or did not really care about the commandments You gave, the morality and justice that You are. We have lived as if we did not fear your wrath or punishment, but feared only the ill opinions of men, lived only for ourselves, worshiped ourselves, told ourselves we deserved it, been selfish, greedy, lustful, petty, mean, proud. That is why we’ve gossiped and bragged, looked at pornography and made plans to lie, pretended that we didn’t mean what we meant when we got caught, hated people, wished they would get hurt, thought ourselves superior, harder working, busier, more clever, more kind and considerate, more orthodox, more fair, and, of course, as always, super-endowed with the ever elusive common sense. Perhaps they look at us and ask, “Where is their God?” because we have denied You, been ashamed of You, lived as though You were not here, or were not real, or did not care.

For this we mourn, we weep, we consecrate a fast, 40 days. We mark ourselves with ashes. We rend not our garments but our hearts. We have failed and treated Your Name and Word with disregard. We are sorry, deeply, deeply sorry. We do not want to sin anymore. We do not want to hurt our neighbors and our friends and our families. We do not want to hurt ourselves. We do not want to bring shame to Your Name. We want to do better. We repent.

Spare Your people, O Lord. For if You do not, we are lost. And though it would be our own fault, would it not then be partially just, if the people said of us, “Where is their God?” Bare Your arm, O Lord. Show your strength in mercy. Show us and them that You are here. Demonstrate again your charity and largess. Be unto us as You have been to our Fathers, a deliverer, a forgiver, a homemaker.

Make us forget the things we think we love, our little luxuries and vanities, those things we think about too much, explain too much, those things that we excuse, the things we secretly love and where we find our illicit pleasure. Stop our mouths from games that seek to be clever in argument and out think Your Word or plant doubt. Stop our mouths from lying and mean words. Teach us to trust not in princes, institutions, governments, families, our own abilities, the good opinion of our neighbors, our bank accounts, our ability to understand the past, or our propensity for wisdom. Let us see them for what they are and the dangers inherent therein. Nothing immoral is ever expedient. There are no victimless crimes. And all things betray us, fail us, hurt us, disappoint us, unless they are found in You, unless You are their source and their end.

Our hearts are restless, Lord, weighed down by besetting sins, by evil habits of body and mind. We are too weak to overcome them. Our record is terrible, shameful, disgusting. We return to our pet sins and flirt with death, make friends with the devil, and lie about everything. We know our fate if we are left alone. We know our fate if justice is served. We do not ask for another chance to try again. For we know that we would fail. We are more bold than that. We have Your Word, Your Promise, the seal of Your Holy covenant in the Blood of the Holy Communion, in the cleansing water from Your side in Holy Baptism. We speak like madmen! We are bold, desperate in our desperate need, we have lost our souls, lost the war, lost our minds. We have nothing left to lose. We have absolutely nothing to give. So we ask for everything, not another chance, but for forgiveness, absolution, mercy. No, not another chance to fail, to start again, to try harder. We ask instead for a brand new life, a clean slate, a total remission and forgetting of all our sins, a declaration of holiness, innocence in Jesus’ Name, a place in Your Kingdom, at Your side, with You, without any merit or worthiness in us. Our hearts are restless, O Lord. Let them rest in You.

Spare us, for this is Your way. Apart from You and Your mercy, from the death of the Son in our place and His victory out of the grave, there is no hope for us. We are broken in heart and spirit, but we are not afraid. You have revealed Yourself to us in Your Word. You have revealed Your Truth. You have shown Your heart in the Son. We know how You have loved us in the death of the Son, how you shine in our darkness and  that no darkness can overcome You. You have called us to faith, baptized us into Your Name, changed and transformed us. We are not worthy. We have no right. We are sinners. But we are Your people, according to Your act, Your Promise, Your Providence, Your gift. Spare us not because we have learned our lesson, we have not. Spare us because You are good, generous, and steadfast in mercy. We are Your saints according to Your Promise. Your Name is upon us. Spare us.

This is our Lenten prayer” let Easter come quickly. Shorten the days we must endure, not the days of the fast, we want not simply another feast, a reprieve from hardship, we want more. We are bold to ask and we ask for the end, for the Resurrection of all the dead, for our Easters, the perfection of our bodies and souls, the sealing in bliss, the end of temptation, the removal of guilt and sin, the freedom and joy of heaven. We pray that the end would come, that the sons of God would be revealed, that the elect would process into heaven, and we would be them. Let that day not find us in sin, O Lord. Spare us an evil death. Keep us in Your Church, in Your Word, in Your Holy Faith, in Your Blessed Communion. And let our children, our grandchildren, our friends and neighbors, our enemies and those who have hurt us also be with us. Gather us from the ends of the earth and let not Your heritage, Your holy Name in us, fall into reproach. For why should the people say of us, “Where is their God,” when You are here on Your Altar in Your risen Body and Blood, our God, who died but who lives, for us. You are here. So are we. Spare us, O Lord.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen

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