“Yet Even Now”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
February 13, 2013
Ash Wednesday – Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joel%202:1-2,%2012-17&version=NIV
Yet even now…
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing."
This is one of those prophetic about faces we find now and again in scripture. The prophet Joel, began his speech, or letter, or whatever form this originally took - Joel is one of the more mysterious books in the Bible, insofar as we don't know a whole lot about the where or when or by whom or any of that good, juicy stuff.
The prophet Joel, began his words with lots of warnings and dire predictions. He described a great and terrible army that had already come leaving all kinds of destruction and sadness in its wake, and then discussed in detail the even greater and even more terrible army that was to come on the day of the Lord.
Just a little background, the first great and terrible army wasn't the usual chariots and horses and guys with swords and weapons kind of army. The first army Joel describes is that of an army of locusts. A giant, massive cloud of destructive bugs who came along and wrecked the land, the crops, the trees, the everything. Wrecked it so that every living creature, save for the locusts themselves, suffered.
And the army that was yet to come, the prophet Joel says, would be even worse than that.
So sound the alarm, he says, blow the trumpet, the shofar, wake the people up because something great and terrible is about to happen.
Something great and terrible is on its way…
And then, the about face: Joel says, wake up, repent, return, for yet even now...
Yet even now, in the face of certain destruction, there is hope. Yet even now there is hope that God, the LORD, will stay true to God's nature and will be gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Don't give up hope, for yet even now the LORD might act on your behalf.
Ash Wednesday, you might say, is the great "Yet even now" of the church year. It's the day when we gather together on the brink of Lent, that season that has us follow Jesus all the way to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion... It's the day we gather together on the brink of Lent and are reminded of our mortality - remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. It's the day we gather together and remember, reflect on our sinfulness, all the ways we haven't lived up to the call to live as God's gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love people.
It can, truth be told, be a bit of a downer as a day. And that, in part, is all right. It's not a bad thing to recall that all of our days, from the youngest among us to the eldest, all of our days are numbered. All of our days are numbered, meaning this earth we inhabit belongs not just to us, but to those who will be here long after we are gone. All of our days are numbered, meaning each day is precious in and of itself; each day is one more God-given opportunity to share the love of Christ with those around us and perhaps even ourselves. Each day is an opportunity to die to our sinful past and return to the Lord with weeping, fasting, and mourning.
It is not a bad thing to be reminded of this. Nor is it a bad thing to be reminded of our fallen condition as human beings. To reflect on the ways that we as individuals have fallen way short of what God hopes for us. To reflect on the ways that we as a society, as a community, are not doing such a great job in working with Jesus to make the Kingdom of God a reality in the here and now. It's not a bad thing to admit where we have gone wrong and to ask for forgiveness and to ask for guidance in striking out on a new, more righteous path.
And yet, even now, these are not the totality of the reasons for us to be here tonight. Ash Wednesday, as solemn and somber as it can be, is not just a time to wallow in darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth, as though that were the end of the story. For this day is but the beginning of a season that leads us to God's ultimate "Yet even now", the cross of Jesus Christ. Today is just the first of 40 days that will lead us to the cross, the place where God's love for this world was and is most fully revealed to all with eyes to see and ears to hear.
This day is the day we hear the trumpet sound of which Joel speaks and our hearts are stirred to repentance and hope all at the same time. This day is the day we receive the ashes that remind us of our frailty as human beings…and then also receive the bread and wine of communion, which remind us that we have been invited by God himself to the feast of everlasting life.
This day, Ash Wednesday, is the day that we hear the words, "Yet even now" and trust that God is indeed waiting eagerly for us to turn, to return, to approach him for the first time, perhaps, and live. Yes, we are sinful. Yes, we are fallen. Yes, we have done and left undone a lot of things that we might regret. Yes, this world is a broken place and we, whether we know it or not, are often complicit in that brokenness.
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart. Return to the LORD, whose very nature is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Yet even now, return, repent, and, dare we say it on this first day of Lent, rejoice. Amen