Mortality – Ash Wednesday


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I have to admit it. I despise those “tests of the emergency broadcast system” that pop up unexpectedly on television and the radio. The sound is awful. If frightens me a little bit. It is always an unwanted interruption. But I know it is necessary. It is necessary to be prepared to take action in the case of an emergency.

When the prophet Joel calls upon the the people of Zion to “blow the trumpet,” he is essentially setting off an emergency broadcast system. Unfortunately for Zion, this alarm is not a test. It is a signal that they are in a state of emergency. What’s the emergency? The day of the Lord is coming near. And the response of the people is prescribed. They are to begin preparations for this imminent visitation by assembling the people and calling them to return their hearts to the Lord. There is no time to waste. They must gather the people, sanctify a fast, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord before it is too late.

While Ash Wednesday may not signal an imminent return of the Lord (for no one knows the day or the hour of his return, not the angels in heaven or even the Son, but only the Father), it does serve as an annual test of our emergency response systems as disciples of Jesus Christ. The annual call to observe a holy Lent by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial; by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word, and by marking a right beginning of repentance by receiving a mark of our mortal nature is a reminder that we need to live as people who are prepared to stand before our Lord at any time, even as early as this very day, to receive the judgment that the Lord renders upon our lives.

It is a stark reminder that life is brief. Every moment is precious. We never know when our time on earth will come to an end. And so we must do all that we can with our lives, with each second and minute and hour and day that our Lord grants us, to live in the way that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has taught us to live.

As Christians, our call is to seek to please not the people around us, but the God who made us. Matthew tells us that the way to do this is to “not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As we begin this holy season together, let us not ignore the warning that is blared by the emergency response system testing that is built into our tradition. Let us instead take it as a clarion call to action. Let us hear the invitation to observe a holy Lent as our marching orders, in which we get up and do what we need to do to be prepared for whatever may come, this day and every day. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we march courageously and faithfully through this season side by side, shoulder to shoulder, as disciples trusting completely in the promises of our God, made known to us in Jesus Christ.


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