Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (ESV)
1 Blow a trumpet in Zion;
sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been before,
nor will be again after them
through the years of all generations.
12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people.
Consecrate the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep
and say, “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?’”
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a period set aside in the liturgical calendar for us to intensely focus on repentance, prayer and fasting, that by self-examination and self-denial we might humbly prepare ourselves for Christ’s glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.
True repentance before our Lord God requires us to look deep within, to allow the Holy Spirit full access to our thoughts and behaviors, permitting Him to show us the error in our ways, submitting our will to His that we would indeed return to the Lord with all our heart. He is calling us to put aside our selfishness, bitterness and pride, to recognize those behaviors and attitudes that are repulsive to Him and turn from them and into the light of Christ.
Return to the Lord God, the prophet Joel tells us, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and He relents over disaster. Lent is a time of deep introspection, recognizing our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom God has so graciously given us. The process is quite humbling as we come before our holy God, confessing our sins and turning from them, but God, in His mercy and grace, receives us just as we are. He forgives our sins, heals our hearts and restores us, reconciling us to Himself. That is the hope and the promise of the observance of a holy Lent, in which we return to the Lord with all our heart, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Spare Your people, O Lord, for we return to You with all our heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. Pour Your mercy upon us that we would know the joy of Your salvation.