Ash Wednesday Evening Service (2 March 2022) Joel 2
Today, is Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent. Lent is for about 40 days and ends on Maundy Thursday. Many people say that Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in the Bible and we should not celebrate it. It is true that the early Christians did not have any celebrations. Theologians believe that king Constantine, in his mission to combine pagans and Christians into a peaceable unit within Roman kingdom, created a few festivals. Although the concept of Ash Wednesday came from non-Christian origin, the early Catholic Church accepted it in 325AD at the council of Nicaea and is now part of our Christian calendar.
During this Lent season, we remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We meditate on the sacrifice Jesus made when He took human form to redeem us. Although Jesus is the Son of the Almighty Father, He came to this earth in human form. He also faced the same difficulties, temptations and challenges like us. To overcome temptations and fulfil His vision, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness. There, He fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil. Jesus came as the second Adam to redeem us. So He had to be tempted and had to overcome the devil to break the curse of sin that separated humans from the presence of God. Following Jesus’s example and remembering Jesus’ suffering, we spend these 40 days fasting and praying and coming closer to the Lord who sacrificed Himself for us. This is to strengthen our spiritual life so we can also overcome temptations like Jesus did in the wilderness. Just as He took the victory over death, we are expected to take victory over the temptation and all assaults of the evil one. Ash Wednesday reminds us to align our relationship with Jesus and receive His anointing to overcome temptations.
Fasting and praying were common practices even during the Old Testament period. People used to sit on ashes and wear sackcloth when fasting and praying. The Israelites were God’s chosen people. Although God made a covenant with David and his descendants, the people went away from the LORD God. God spoke through various prophets to restore them and bring them back to Him. Joel was one of the prophets who called the people unto repentance. Joel means ‘Jehovah or Yahweh is the LORD God’. In today’s reading, Joel is calling the Israelites to turn to the LORD God with prayer and fasting. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we need to fast and pray to reconcile with the LORD Jesus.
In chapter 2 verses 12 and 13 prophet Joel says, “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil”. The Almighty God gave His commandments when the Israelites were in the wilderness. The Israelites had to offer sacrifices to receive forgiveness of their sins. But when the people continued to live in sin and offer sacrifices, the prophets cried unto the people to rend their hearts and repent and turn to the Lord God. Here, prophet Joel calls the people to repent with fasting, weeping and mourning. He calls the people to gather together and sanctify themselves before weeping to the Lord. The Lord’s expectation was not physical circumcision, but circumcision in the people’s heart. Ash Wednesday reminds us that the Lord expects circumcision of our hearts.
We can read an incident in the Bible where the people repented and turned back to the God this way. Jonah went to Nineveh and prophesised against the city. When the king heard about it, “he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water” (Jonah 3:6,7). The whole city fasted and prayed and humbled themselves before God. They repented and turned to God with fasting, weeping and mourning. The Lord was true to His promises, and the city was saved. Ash Wednesday reminds us that when we humble ourselves and repent of our ways, He is faithful and just to forgive us.
Today, our Lord expects us to repent and turn to Him with true repentance. He expects our hearts to be changed and renewed. Jesus is the door that leads us to eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”. Jesus is the giver of eternal life. Jesus is the only way to receive salvation. Jesus is the truth that leads us to eternal life. When we follow Jesus’s teachings and live a life pleasing in His sight, we will inherit eternal life. Ash Wednesday reminds us that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.
A verse that is related to Ash Wednesday is Genesis 3:19. The verse mentions a stark reality: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. In our busy lives, we forget this truth and are busy with many transitory things. It is also a time to remind ourselves that our life in this world is transitory. Every day, we must live our lives pleasing our Lord and ask ourselves “If today is my last day in this earth, will I go to heaven?” Ash Wednesday is also a time to remind ourselves that we are dust and will become dust, so we must be always prepared to meet the Lord after this transitory life.
This Lent, let us pause and reflect and spend time on reflecting on what our Lord Jesus has done for us. Let us re-align our relationship with Him. Let us humble ourselves and receive His forgiveness. Let us spend more time in fasting and praying and getting to know His will in our lives. Let us be strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit to overcome temptations. Let us circumcise our hearts and commit to His will saying “Not my will, but thine”. Let us have the assurance and confidence that we have received salvation and will inherit eternal life when we return to dust. Let this period not be another one in the church calendar. Instead, let it be a time to bring us closer to the Lord who suffered for us. Let us lay our treasures in heaven and look forward to the day we inherit those treasures.
I pray that our LORD Jesus prepares and preserves us for our eternity in the kingdom of God with Jesus. Amen!