Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Ash Wednesday Year B 2015

 Fr. Dale Matson

The season of Lent has arrived and we begin the season with Ash Wednesday. It is a time for reflection, confession, repentance penance, almsgiving and prayer. It is forty days of preparation for Easter where our Lord arose bodily from the grave. Lent is a penitential season. It is a time of self-denial, fasting, reading of Scripture and personal sacrifice. For Catechumens, it is a time of preparation for Baptism. In the Lenten season, the focus is on contrition and cleansing. It begins on Ash Wednesday where ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the penitent.

Lent is a time for downsizing the ego. I am reminded of a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)

There is a tendency for Christians to be like the self-righteous older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke Chapter 15. St. Paul warns us about being self righteous in Galatians. “If a man thinks he is “somebody”, he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves that he is nobody. Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without dependence on the approval of others.” (6: 3-4, J B Phillips)

At some point we need to get beyond being righteous to being gracious, from insisting on justice to offering compassion and mercy also. As we mature, we need to stop being the older brother to being the father in the story of the Prodigal. Our opening collect states in part, “Create and make in us, new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

When we think of God, we think of God’s many attributes. God is a God of Love and Grace. God is Righteous, Holy and Sovereign. He is also a God of Mercy. In our opening collect, we are asking first of all for mercy.

We hear of God’s Mercy again in our Old Testament passage from Joel. “Yet return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful.”

We hear of His mercy again in the first verse of our Psalm today. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.”

In His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
The young Christian strives with God’s help to be righteous. The young Christian is the righteous older brother with sometimes grudging loyalty to his father. I believe the mature Christian embraces compassion and mercy. The mature Christian strives to be like the prodigal’s father, full of compassion and mercy.

When the younger son returned, he had squandered his entire inheritance. He had lost all his earthly possessions, yet he had reclaimed his humility and his humanity. That is why his father could look past his debauchery and see a man with a broken and contrite heart. He could see that he had in fact, regained his son. The father in the story of the prodigal is intended to represent our Heavenly Father.
When the son “…got up and went to his father, while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. But his son said, ‘Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don't deserve to be called your son any more....’ ‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that calf we've fattened and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son—I thought he was dead, and he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him, and he’s found!’ (Luke 15). The son’s confession also revealed his new humility.

God cannot refuse a child with a contrite and broken heart. Neither can the mature Christian refuse those with a contrite and broken heart. The older brother in me judges the street beggar but the father in me reaches out in mercy for these individuals with weather beaten skin and a humble demeanor. 

For the mature Christian, compassion and mercy is the natural response because we also have learned of our Father’s mercy by our repentance, contrition and confession.

In this season of Lent, let us heed the words of the prophet Joel. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 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.” Amen.       


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