Repentant Joy

In preparation for yesterday’s sermon, at one point along the way I found myself pondering the following sentence offered during the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper:

“With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and His blood on the cross.”

That’s a strange sentence. It’s peculiar because within it, the petitioners fashion the words “repentant” and “joy” into a singular, personal descriptor.

At first thought, repentance would seem to bear an edge, to be the cutting result of receiving the harder news about oneself, a response acted out in humility, a response borne from a penetrating sorrow for Sin, a full-throated acknowledgement of who we are and what we’ve done. Joy, on the other hand, paints a portrait of one who bounds along without burden, happily unconcerned with the sorrowful things and smiling as though gravity is imaginary and the sun will never set.

In the swiftness of a prayerful moment, these two words seem to be the blending of passionate opposites—like the mixing of oil and water, darkness and light, pessimism and optimism.

To really get what’s behind their comradery, I suppose it’s imperative for us to first realize these words are aimed straight into our guts. In other words, as Christians, we own them in faith. But equally, as they burrow into us, they reach our center, grab hold, and then begin steering us intently toward the end of the sentence in which they dwell—to the sacrifice of Jesus for our Sin.

Both have their eyes set upon the crucified Savior.

The “repentant” half of the phrase reminds us the words aren’t careless. Life is not a bopping along with unconcerned steps. With the cross as the heading, we keep our footing and know our location. We’re bound to humility. We know that even as we live in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness of sins each and every day—that His love is given to us freely and fully—the work to accomplish our redemption wasn’t cheap. It was quite costly. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the receipt for the dreadful expense. The image itself prompts the recognition that we are in daily need of what Christ won on that cross. Each day we fall short. Each day is encumbered by monsters—Sin, Death, the devil—all maneuvering to eat away at our inheritance as God’s children, and we should never take this lightly.

But deeper still, even as we live in this fallen world well aware of our jagged surroundings, the “joy” half of the phrase is an expression of Christian hope, a truth that knows the death of Jesus for our salvation as it meets with the “right now” but also the “not yet.” We are free to live in Christ right now knowing that our heavenly future is secure. By faith, as God’s beloved children, we are heirs of eternal life.

Repentant joy. Sounds good.

In my opinion, these words together are incredibly thick and immensely real, and even if they were spoken alone, they’d announce far more than the most eloquent and heartfelt pleas. In two words, we learn our identity as ones who live and breathe and move in this world with a joyful confidence located in the forgiveness won by Jesus for the world to come. Or perhaps another way—we live at the ready. We live knowing that in Christ we have the best of all things while remaining honest with ourselves, acknowledging that our Sin-nature knows this, too, and would see to it being snatched away.

I like the phrase “repentant joy,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be more intentional about using it in my daily prayers. I’m going to be a bit more concerted about asking that the Holy Spirit continue to work this in me.

Forgiveness is Hard

I took a tangential turn in the sermon yesterday. I mentioned from the pulpit that when I got to the church and was looking over my sermon manuscript, I experienced the urge to add something to the text.
During the sermon, right after considering the immeasurable depth of the Lord’s efforts to save us by way of His sacrificial death, I steered into the expense of forgiveness as it unfolds among people. Just as the forgiveness of Christ isn’t cheap, it isn’t cheap between any of us, either. It was a hard-fought forgiveness that streamed from the Lord’s work on Calvary’s cross. It’ll often be a hard-fought reality among God’s people, too.
Of course I don’t mean to say that the Lord found it difficult to forgive us. In His perfect love, that’s always His first inclination. He desires to show mercy to the contrite. He desires to be gracious to the penitent sinner. He reminds us by His Word that when His forgiveness is given, He forgets our wicked deeds and we begin anew (Hebrews 8:12).
But we’re not God. We struggle to forgive. We find it even harder to forget.
My point is that as true, deep, consequential forgiveness is needed among people, we should be wary of a couple of things.
First, for the offender, I suppose I’d be skeptical of forgiveness that is too superficially given. If it comes thoughtlessly and without expense to the offended, then the wounds are probably not being mended properly and things are bottling up and heading for catastrophe at a much later date. Take the time to talk about it. Really talk about it. Reconcile. Mend. Confess again and again if need be. Actually ask for forgiveness. Say the words.
If necessary, I’ll walk with you through this. Just send me a message. I am your servant.
Second, for the one offended, know that forgiveness is possible. It’s always possible. But it won’t be easy. It’s going to hurt. A lot.
Dear Christian, this is a reflection of the suffering of our Lord and what He endured to win our forgiveness. There are plenty of Scripture texts I could share in this moment that talk about partaking in the sufferings of Christ. Dealing in the excruciating exchange of forgiveness between people who have done ungodly things to one another is a way this partaking happens.
I share all of this—and I think I was moved to actually say it from the pulpit—because we need to hear it more and more. There are marriages that need mending. There are friendships that need healing. There are families that need recalibrating. There are lives that are in upheaval because forgiveness is exactly what’s needed even as it seems so impossible.
But it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. Really hard. And God promises He will accomplish it through His people—human beings who have their hearts and minds set on His loving kindness—a loving kindness that actually did achieve the impossible. He points to the death of His Son on the cross as the proof.
I hope these words speak straight to your middle. And know that I’m praying for you in such situations.

A Review of the Movie “Unplanned”

The prefix “un” is a powerful device of the English language. Add it to any concept, and it is reversed.

Things once believed with conviction are found unbelievable. Sturdy ideological fabric is unraveled. Something sure is found unreliable.

This is the “un” of the film “Unplanned,” and I dare say that no matter the starting point for the viewer—whether pro-life or pro-choice—at the end of the film, neither will be found unaffected.

To start, over the last few years, I’ve given presentations to various Right to Life groups, and as part of the presentation, I’ve sometimes added that I believe that abortion won’t begin to subside until people are made to look at it—to actually look at it—like the citizens of Germany following World War II. No sooner than they were marched through the camps and shown the piles of bodies did they finally begin to learn the gravity of the evil in their midst and eventually own their Sin.

“Unplanned” isn’t quite the same thing, although it is a marching through the death camp of sorts. It certainly is far more than just a peek behind the curtain. And this is good, because for many in America, the topic of Abortion is more like a lizard’s tail than the actual lizard. They’ve grabbed at it for so long thinking they’ve captured it, but in reality, it has slipped away leaving behind only a fragment of itself. The casual pro-lifer thinks abortion is bad, but isn’t all that concerned with working to make it completely illegal. The casual pro-choicer just wants it to be “safe and rare.” I suppose in a sense, the film reminds people on both sides of the issue that none can be too sure of the ideology they have in hand until coming face to face with the actual lizard strutting its full color, until stepping through the gateway of the death camp. When this happens, when the moviegoer sees abortion sunning itself in full array, plans to hold onto what we think is true of abortion suddenly become un-planned. They are swiftly and mercilessly undone, unraveled, and marked as unbelievable.

It’s hard for anyone—anyone truly human, that is—to witness the tiniest among us struggling to avoid an invading monster, a beast that reaches up and into the womb to so violently tear her limb from limb and ultimately pull her through a much smaller suction tube toward a waste receptacle collecting the bubbling, gory chunks of visceral red. Seeing this, the complacent pro-lifer will better understand the value of exchanging attendance at a soccer game for the opportunity to actively participate on the front lines to overthrow the clinics performing these Auschwitz-like events. Beholding this, the obstinate pro-choicer might just be found choking on the lie betrayed by the grim ultrasound imagery of a sentient life fiercely engaging in self-preservation. God willing they might just see that abortion isn’t the virtue-signaling solution to inconvenience it has been made out to be, that it isn’t a medical procedure performed on a clump of cells, that it isn’t a fundamental right of a woman.

It’s homicide—cold, calculated slaughter.

“Unplanned” takes our preconceived notions—our ideological plans—and un-plans them.

Now just a bit of critical commentary, which should in no way dissuade you from seeing the film. See it. Take others with you. It is worth your dollars and time.

First, I’ll admit the acting isn’t the best—except for Ashley Bratcher, who plays Abby Johnson, the woman who lived the story you’re seeing on the screen. No matter how awkward some of the scripted scenes were, she invested herself fully in the drama required to carry each one. She is perhaps challenged for best performance by one of the smallest, briefest roles in the film. Anisa Nyell Johnson, whose character is only mentioned in the credits as “Rhonda’s Mom,” is on screen for maybe less than two or three minutes, but in that short period of time, she gives a stirring performance. In fact, I must confess that the only time I came close to tears during the film is when Johnson’s character pleaded with tearful screams through the fence to her daughter Rhonda not to go through with the abortion. Her voice, her tears, her description of the joy that comes from children—namely to think on the joy that has already been given to the whole family by way of the beautiful five-year-old daughter holding Rhonda’s hand in that moment as she walked into the clinic. That scene communicated better than so many of the others the very real helplessness some may be feeling at the fence.

Brooks Ryan, who plays Abby’s husband Doug, is terrible. Kaiser Johnson, who plays the lawyer, Jeff, is even worse. I’m glad his part was small. But again, between these two, I’d say the dreadful acting had more to do with scenes that were poorly scripted—which is pretty typical of Pure Flix films. It’s one reason why I don’t watch their movies. They’re almost always too awkward in their handling of sacred things, and the theology is often just as bad.

With that, I’ll just come right out and say that at times, the spirituality presented by the film was bothersome, and this is true in a couple of ways.

First of all, I’m one who thinks that the creed-less pop-spirituality offered by the arena-type churches with rock bands, screens, and no crosses on the walls (which was the brief portrayal of Christian worship in the film) is dangerous to the pro-life cause. This type of worship is shallow, and its perpetuators are seen as flaky rather than committed. All of it together is fertilizer for the roots of why the world around us doesn’t take Christianity very seriously. We’re not seen as the ageless and unbroken church that we are—one equipped with an unearthly courage that has withstood the fires of persecution and death, one that speaks its own language with powerful reverence and timeless rite and ceremony, one that exists as a culture completely distinct from all others. Rather, such thin Christianity is seen as trying to emulate the world’s ways in order to fit in. With this, why would we expect anyone outside of the church to stand up and take notice when we’re on the move or have something to say about a world-altering subject such as abortion, especially since we’ve already shown that we’re more interested in following the world’s lead?

But that is, of course, a discussion for another time.

Second, if you’re going to communicate the message of redemption, then just do it. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Don’t tiptoe around it, otherwise, you run the risk of appearing half-invested in what you are trying to communicate. Just be honest. That’s what the viewer is expecting, anyway. I know the filmmakers said they didn’t want to make a “preachy” film. Still, from beginning to end, the Christian perspective is more than made known through the portrayal of prayer, the repeated discussions of God, the worship scene, the Bible quotations, the theme of humility toward enemies, the mantra of hope, and the like. All of this sets the stage for what could have been a gripping and climactic moment of Gospel when Abby finally arrives at the realization of the truest depth of what she’s done.

[Spoiler alert.]

Doug wakes up in the middle of the night to find her gone. He discovers her crumpled on the floor in the living room near the couch. She’s weeping bitterly. Her Christian husband comes to comfort her. She defines the contours of her sadness with unveiled clarity: As the director of the clinic, she’s the one responsible for the killing of over 22,000 human beings. How can she find her way through this? How could someone like her—someone nearly Hitler-esque—ever be reconciled to God?

“All you have to do is ask for forgiveness,” Doug replies, robotically.

“But how can God even begin to forgive someone like me?” are the essentials of her paralyzing and dreadfully overwhelming sadness.

“Well, because He’s God,” Doug replies, like a shallow dolt, essentially revealing God as the carefree Grampa in his rocking chair on the front porch in the sky. He doesn’t care what you’ve done. He just smiles and waves it off.

No. He does care. Sin is formidable. Death, too. And His care for us against these things cost Him a lot. For one, Sin has a price—a massively dreadful price. From the sinister actions leading to the deathly gas chambers in Germany to the thoughtless, but unkind, comment we made to our spouse at dinner, Sin has a wage and it is eternal Death—separation from God for all time. The wage for Sin will be paid out one way or another by someone. The heavenly Father sent Christ. Christ was that someone.

Here was the chance, even if only for a second, to point to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for every Sin, even the Sin of murdering 22,000 people. Here was the chance to communicate to everyone in the theater the expanse of God’s love in Christ, the chance to meet each and every person watching the film, all of whom are most certainly wrestling with some form of guilt from this or that Sin—many staying far from Christian churches because they believe their Sins are far too great to be forgiven, maybe in this instance, squirming through the film because they’ve had an abortion. Here was the most potent of opportunities to proclaim God’s truest love for all displayed through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But they blew it because they didn’t want to be too preachy.

Still, even with this dropping of the ball, the film is a monumental achievement. It manages to tell a distressing story and it does so with a brutal and convincing scrupulousness that meets the single most bloodthirsty issue of our day.

I should add to its credit that within the first five minutes of the film, you’ll learn the distinction between those who shout “Baby killer!” through the fence at a young and confused girl and those who are seeking to be faithful to Christ and serve in the trenches in love. Equally, and while I almost don’t want to admit it, the movie works to humanize the people working in the clinic. They are people with families who really do think that they’re helping women. In that sense, “Unplanned” is a movie made for people so that they understand other people.

But most importantly, the movie works to convince the majority that they never really had the lizard, only its tail.

I highly recommend the film, and again, I encourage you to see it. You’ll be changed. It’ll be a hard metamorphosis to experience, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll be given an insider’s look into what’s happening in abortion clinics across the country. What you’ll see, you won’t be able to unsee. It’ll be seared into your mind. For many, I hope the images are all that was needed to turn thoughts into actions and actions into results—the ultimate result being a collective awakening and a final ridding of the abomination that is abortion from this country.

The Feast of All Saints – Go To Church

“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Saint Paul wrote those words to the Corinthian church just as he was about to begin explaining the doctrine of Altar Fellowship, which when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of it, is all about what’s happening in Holy Worship, namely, the Lord’s Supper.

This post begins as it does because Paul’s words just felt right. I wanted to urge you to flee from idolatrous things. You are sensible people. Judge for yourselves the words that follow, the first of which is a very short and easily understood statement.

Flee from idolatry.

Today, if your church is at all mindful of her history, she will be observing the Feast of All Saints. If you have plans to be somewhere else, or to do something else, change your plans. This time, instead of rearranging your schedule to accommodate idolatry, change your schedule to accommodate the forgiveness of sins delivered through Word and Sacrament. Skip that which would conflict with those divine things which give to you all that Christ has won by virtue of His life, death, and resurrection.

Go to church. Take a look in the mirror and recognize that you need to be there, not only because of your idolatrous tendencies—which is evidenced by your excuses and your absence—but also because you belong there by virtue of your baptism into the fellowship of Saints.

Know this—you won’t be alone in feeling a little uneasy if you’ve been away for a while and then suddenly reemerge. In fact, think of it this way. In the Confession of Sins right at the beginning of the Divine Service, we drop to our knees as an entire congregation. We bow our heads. We close our eyes. We confess that all of us are members of the fellowship of sinful man in our thoughts, words, and deed; by the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone. We confess this together, and with that, I can affirm for you as a fellow sinner that there are plenty of reasons for everyone in the room to feel uneasy. You most certainly won’t be alone. We’re all acknowledging that God knows something about us, and it isn’t pretty.

But know this, too—after all of the penitent voices speaking in solemn sadness go quiet, you will hear a solitary voice, the voice of your pastor, the one Christ has called to stand in His stead and by His command, and it will be for you as the Lord’s own voice announcing to you that you need not fear. You need not be uneasy. You need not be afraid. Through repentance and faith in His mercy, you belong here, and He wants you to know with absolute certainty that He loves you, forgives you, and will lift you to your feet to sing as much in the Introit appointed for the day: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”

So, stop making excuses. They don’t measure up, anyway, and you know it. Stop skipping church. You already know there’s no better place to be. Hear this Gospel imperative to repent and believe in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Be moved to come and get from Christ what He has won for you—which is also the only thing that will sustain you in a world seeking to impose itself upon you day after seemingly endless day.

In and by faith, you are a Saint. Today is your day. Join your fellow believers. Be with your Redeemer at the feast!

Losing is Hard

A Post Election Message

Losing is hard.

I’ve never participated in the circulation of memes mocking folks like Whoopi Goldberg and Bryan Cranston who said they’d leave the country if Trump won the election. I didn’t participate, and not because I wanted them to stick around. Personally, I think that the dear Lady Liberty that America is would be a much better off if she weren’t always scratching at her celebritous fleas. Still, I never participated because, quite simply, I was dealing honestly. I know how hard it is to lose. I know what it’s like to have a long-suffering and hopeful expectation for victory building in momentum over the course of what feels like a calendar-consuming “forever” suddenly become something else in a little more than an hour of election result postings.

Losing is hard. It hurts terribly. And if one is not careful, it can negatively recalibrate so much more than emotions. It can lead to some of the deeper, darker places that would see words spoken between people—between families, friends, and neighbors—and to have those relationships broken beyond repair.

Losing is hard. Forgiveness—real, down in the filth forgiveness—is too. Look to Christ on the cross and measure the effort to win our forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. Now, I’m not talking about the perfect love that put Him there. It’s God’s innermost nature to love us and want to save us. It’s His alien work to punish. In His truest nature, when God looks upon us, He does so in love. I mean, when Adam fell into Sin, He didn’t crash down with a thundering voice, “What have you done?” But instead, He called out, “Where are you?” His first work was to find us in our shame and bring us back. Of course human love doesn’t even come close to this perfect love. It’s tainted, and it doesn’t guarantee forgiveness. I can, in a sense, love a friend, and yet never be rid of the gnat-like memories of the times they’ve hurt me. Forgiveness, like losing, is hard.

But by God’s grace, and perhaps strangely, there is the opportunity before so many of us to see that losing and forgiveness walk in stride. Losing means someone else stands above us on the pedestal in victory. Forgiveness means putting aside selfish pride to be the victor and existing in humility below another, too. I dare say that with forgiveness as the focal point of losing’s horizon, things can and will be okay.

Forgiveness in Stride

I had a conversation just before worship with one of our church members a few weeks back about the joys of email. I’m sure this perso won’t mind me mentioning that we both somewhat agreed that sifting through thirty or forty each morning and trying to prioritize and then respond to them is not one of life’s mesmerizing beauties. Don’t get me wrong. I love the messages I receive from folks, most especially, all of you. The trouble comes when I miss one that is important or I get my prioritizing wrong and I don’t get on something as quickly as I should.

I struggle with that kind of stuff. In fact, it just happened pretty recently. I received an email from  the co-chairs of the Board of Trustees, and in the email they shared some pretty important things about the facility’s current and future needs. Well, guess what? The email got lost in the shuffle and I missed it completely. There it sat for over a week. With that, you can imagine my embarrassment when one of them asked me last Thursday at the Fine Arts Concert if I’d had a chance to see and then think about the stuff in the email.

“Hmm. You sent an email? Um, yeah, when did you do that, again?”

Of course there is forgiveness for these littler mistakes we make in life. And he just laughed it off because he’s a Christian man and a friend. Most often we all know to take these kinds of failures in stride and move along. And we hope others will give us the benefit of the same stride when we fall short. But it sure is a lot harder to stretch oneself to the extremities of Christian love and forgiveness when someone speaks or acts in a way that is deliberately offensive—when they speak ill of you, when they do something that is incredible hard to undo let alone to forgive and forget. It’s the nature of man to be scarred by such things, and then to reach back into the fray to reward damage for damage.

Still, living and serving together as a family in Christ means just the opposite of such things. It means at a bare minimum, forgiving, amending if possible, and then working diligently to do as God does: Forget it ever happened. That’s right. God forgets your sins.

“I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

If you are in the mood for memorizing a new text from God’s Word, that’s one worth remembering. It’s telling you just how complete God’s forgiveness truly is. Maybe think of it this way. When you stand before God on the Last Day, if you try to bring up the sins you’ve committed in the past that have been covered by the blood of Christ and the forgiveness won on the cross, He’s literally going to look at you and say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Perhaps one of the things we can take away from the celebration of Pentecost we just recalled yesterday is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the strange forgetfulness of God’s love is made known to us and to the world. It’s poured into us by the Holy Spirit, and with that, we are not only given the supernatural ability to acknowledge our own failings in light of God’s holy Law, but we are able to forgive the failings of people around us. Even further, we are empowered for some pretty amazing things in this life, things we never expected we’d be able to do.

Another example. After that interaction at the Fine Arts Concert, I told him I’d get on that email first thing in the morning. And I did.

Essentially, the original email was about, as I said, the current and future needs of the facility and how we might go about focusing on them when money is tight. In my response, I took a moment to mention that within the last six years, our congregation has almost completely changed in the way she goes about her stewardship with Christ’s gifts—namely giving. We’ve become more attuned to understanding how the Holy Spirit works in the church when it comes to the needs set before the people of God. Mainly, one thing we’ve learned is that gimmicky fundraisers are just that, gimmicky, and they don’t do anything for long-term spiritual growth in the people participating. In other words, they’re not spiritual meat and potatoes that keep the body healthy. They’re more like a diet of Twinkies. You can eat ‘em, and they’ll keep you alive for a little while, but in the end, you just ain’t gonna thrive, my friend.

We do what Saint Paul did. When there’s a need, we communicate it and then we urge one another by the Gospel to be the very people God has made us to be. When we do this, we meet the challenges every single time. And then as we continue to look back over the course of the efforts, we can see that we’re only getting better at doing it, not paralyzed by terror when the struggles come, but rather well-fed and sturdy from the good sustenance that God provides through Word and Sacrament for meeting things head on.

I like that. But even if I didn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s how God works, plain and simple. God works through His Gospel. By that Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, we are re-created to be His people and face off with the challenges that come our way, knowing that the only loss in any challenge is death—and even then, to die in Christ is victory!

Speaking of the needs shared in the email, we’re looking at a few sizeable ones over the course of the upcoming year. One of those is a new HVAC unit for the church. I learned an unfortunate truth a few months back, and it’s that ours was never even the right kind when we first had it installed thirty years ago. It’s the kind of unit you’d install on a church’s rooftop in southern Alabama and not a church in Michigan. With that, we’ve worked the thing so hard that we’ve essentially killed it. Although, the fact that we got thirty years out of the thing is nothing short of divine intervention. If I remember the number correctly, the new one—more importantly, the right one—will cost us about $85,000. Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s no small number, to be sure. And yet, we need to do this soon, otherwise we’re going to start having some serious problems in the nave in both summer and winter.

Another need is the parking lot. Maybe you heard along the way that when the new lot was put in during construction, we were supposed to have six inches of gravel on top of a layer of sand before actually laying the pavement. Well, apparently the decision was made to just put down sand and then the pavement right on top of it. That was a very bad idea. It’s why the whole lot is crumbling and our drains are falling into the bosom of the earth. Still, in a sense, we have to live with the decision that was made, mainly because at this point we don’t have $100,000 to put in a brand new parking lot (and if we did, we’d probably use it for the HVAC unit, anyway), but it also means that sometime this summer or early fall, we really need to get around to repairing the lot, which goes to the tune of about $16,000. Again, that’s a pretty big chunk.

But I’m not scared or dissuaded by this. We’ve got the Holy Spirit on our side. With that, as God’s people, we’ll listen to the leadership set forth the needs in a faithfully biblical way and we’ll all respond in kind. Some will do it by donating their skills. Others will do it by giving of their time. Some will do it by giving a little or a lot—whatever God allows according to their means. Either way, like I said, the Holy Spirit will do the moving.

I suppose this introduction started off talking about the incredible power to forgive one another. Since I sort of “free type” these openings to the eNewsletter, I can see that the Holy Spirit had other fruits associated with that forgiveness in mind, too. But whatever the final takeaway may be, know we’re in this together as a Christian family. Listen to Him. He loves us. Be encouraged by that message and know He won’t let us down.

Ash Wednesday: Well Worth Your While

Well, Lent is on the way, and it begins with Ash Wednesday, the day in the church year when the nave and sanctuary are draped in black, and we are, perhaps more so than any other day, drawn to penitent recognition that within the divine courtroom, God has a case against all of us in our sin.

There are plenty of things people choose to avoid seeing and hearing. They do so for various reasons. We all know the reason people avoid the discussion on Sin. It hurts. It’s the one thing in this life that none of us can escape—not through ducking and covering, not through quick and convincing talking, not by all out avoidance. Sin finds us, and it does so easily. Why? Because it’s already in us. We take the sin-nature with us wherever we go, and like a spiritual slime, we are quite capable of leaving a trail of it behind.

Some might say that to try to avoid this reality is the depth of the action’s sinful reflection, but I’d say that to knowingly avoid it is the deepest point in Sin’s dark trench. If you know you need rescue, but are equally unwilling to admit it and seek after help, you are an accomplice to your own demise.

God would not have it this way. This is the deeper, lovelier dimension to what is one of the most somber events in the Church Year. On Ash Wednesday, the job of the preacher is to make sure that you know—unequivocally, unmistakably, unreservedly—that you are a sinner, and the wage for Sin is nothing less than eternal death. You will be staged for this truth by an ashen mark in the shape of a cross on your forehead while hearing the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But then you will hear how in the deepest reaches of your forsakenness, by a cross, Jesus Christ reached down and took your place in the divine courtroom. He stepped forth from eternity and took the judgment into Himself in every single way and with all of its brute force, and He rescued you.

He would not have you lost, but found. He would not leave you dead, but alive. He would not see you punished for your crimes, but rather freed to be His child of grace in this world.

I encourage you to come to the Lord’s house on Ash Wednesday. If you have other plans, cancel them. This is more important. Participate in the ancient ceremony of the Imposition of Ashes. Gather with your church family to recall the common and worldwide dreadfulness of our fall into sin, but do so prepared to receive the Good News of deliverance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of that same world. Be there to consume that same Good News by way of the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, a meal that actually delivers the forgiveness of sins as it reaches in all directions and ages, flowing unbound to you from the divine Son of God who hung on that cross.

Don’t avoid Ash Wednesday. Embrace it. It will be well worth your while.