422, 607, 420, 569, 613
Joel 2:12–19, 2 Peter 1:2–11, Matthew 6:16–21
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus the Lord. Amen.
The sermon text is the Gospel appointed, the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 6th
chapter, with particular focus on these words:
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”
The text in part, please be seated.
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The purple paraments of Lent have preceded that season this year with the three Gesima Sundays of Pre-lent. A certain somber liturgical path has already begun, and that pathway has brought us now to the ashes of Ash Wednesday.
“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The crucifixs are veiled with the pentential veils of our somber lenten walk. The ashen crosses smeared upon our foreheads remind us of our sinful flesh.
The ashes itch, flake off, and soil our clothing. And so, this walk, without the joy filled
alleluias, is meant for inner reflection, not guided by our fleshly hearts, sinful as they are, but rather a meditation of God's law.
This Lenten path begins with the reality of the ashes, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death, the real and great temporal consequence of sin, ever looms ahead.
The ashes can't help but remind us of our sins against God. Sometimes, far too often, we place other things above God in our lives. And sometimes, far too often, we don't love our neighbors at all either.
Our sin, our own grevious sin's reminder is smeared upon our foreheads, and then we drop to our knees and confess:
“O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”
But even on this gloomy pathway of Lent, a bright Gospel truth is Christ-spoke into our made to hear ears,
“In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.” Fast, yes, …, deny your flesh its sinful desires, repent your sins yes, but always, always believe the Gospel's forgiveness.
Christ lived, suffered, died and rose again for the forgiveness of all your sins.
And in the aftermath of the bright flash of Gospel light, the Holy Absolution, we are given a marvelous song to sing the joy of the Christian who has had his sins forgiven. Our Introit's antiphon is a liturgical creation of of Mother Church. And so we sing,
“You have mercy on | all, O Lord,*
and abhor nothing | you have made.
You look past the sins of men that they | may repent.*
You spare them all because you are our | Lord, our God.”
The Lenten path is full of reminders of our grevious sins. Graciously the Gospel is also resoundingly clear – you are a sinner, yes, and most certainly you are forgiven.
And while our Liturgical path has omitted many joyful songs, Alleluias, and the Gloria In Excelsis yet, the forgiveness received fuels our lives, our time on life's path. And so our pentitential pathway rightly leads us to the sanctified life. As we are forgiven, we are so given, and lead, to live and to pray.
Ash Wednesday's Collect acknowledges our sin, and our desperate need to be gathered, enlighted, and sanctified by the Word always. And so we pray,
“Almighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
Our ashes still itch, and flake, and soil. And well they should, for we need a powerful reminder of our sins, our own grevious sins. They really soil us. Not to doubt that those sins are forgiven, but to repent them, and so with God's help amend our sinful lives.
So, that our lenten path might be better understood. Having considered our sins, and having felt the comforting peace the Gospel alone can give, we now listen to the prophet Joel's wonderful message from Christ Himself:
“Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied.”
Centuries before the Messiah came in the flesh, He prepared His Church to recognize His gifts, His presence with her, and thereby with you. Not only is our daily bread a gift for our bodies, but also, our daily bread is the Word of God in the many ways that He comes to us.
Called through Holy Baptism, called and placed, gathered to Holy Absolution, Holy preaching/teaching, and the Holy Communion, so also we are enlightened by His Word through all the means through which Christ Himself ordained.
“Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied.” And yes you are! Always, and especially on the lenten path, with its dark meditations of our sinfulness we crave His body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins.
And now our Ash Wednesday path brings us to the Gradual. Knowing our sin, and knowing our forgiveness in Christ alone, we sing,
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merci- | ful to me,*
for in you my soul takes | refuge.
He will send from heaven and | save me;*
he will put to shame him who tramples | on me.”
With bowed heads the ashes are imposed, and with bowed heads the Holy Absolution is received.
Christ's gifts bestow real things – forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. And recieving these, you are given to live out in the world, and bestow Christ to others. St. Peter exhorts you and me,
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
Christ in you: Christ works these things through you. And you get to give the Father thanks for your Savior in these ways – your Christian life.
Purple veils, Palmarum's ashes, confessions of sins, bowed heads, and missing Alleulias, they all aid to help our pentential relections. “You are dust and unto to dust you shall return.” Or in the words of the Medieval children's sing-song, a somber acknowledgement of the plague, and the death it brought, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
So we who are dying, yet living eternaly already, sing the Proper's tract song in faith and in receipt of the Gospel dear, we sing
He does not deal with us according | to our sins,*
nor repay us according to our in- | iquities.
Do not remember against us our former in- | iquities;*
let your compassion come speedily to | meet us.
Help us, O God of our sal- | vation,*
for the glory | of your name.
Certainly, death is sin's greatest temporal consequence, yet graciously, we are not left simply to die.
“But when you fast,” as you will, also remember, as the Baptized, even on this darkened pentential path, that graciously you are given to hear, to know, that you are forgiven, you are saved, and you have already begun to live forever (point to the fount). For Jesus' most holy Passion's sake. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.