February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday is a Call to Rend Our Hearts and Grow In Spiritual Life

At the pancake supper last night someone asked me about the meaning of Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday was the day ancient monks and holy men went to Confession with a priest to be forgiven (“shriven”) of their sins to prepare for the season of Lent. This was symbolized in the outward form of shaving their head as a sign of being penitent. On Ash Wednesday we take this a step further by examining our lives, coming for Confession and having our foreheads marked with ashes as a reminder that we have come from the dust and our bodies will return to the dust. In the Readings first Joel reminds us why we need to examine our hearts, then Paul challenges us to choose between Earthly and Heavenly treasures and Jesus challenges us to take this seriously.

1. Joel warned the Hebrew People to prepare for the Day of the Lord

It had been a long time, hundreds of years since Moses, and both the priests and the people had started to take God for granted. They had reduced Rule # 1 – To love God with all their heart, to formal ritual for many people:
  • People would offer sacrifices without really being sorry
  • They were placating God – not really honouring, fearing, loving
  • Joel prophesied that God was about to intervene
  • “Day of the Lord” = End Time when enemies of God destroyed
  • Wake-up call to examine life, repent and turn back to love of God
 2. Paul warns the Corinthians and us – Christians have to make a choice
Christians live in two dimensions – with opposite forms of treasure. In the world our treasure is ‘personal peace and affluence’. We work hard and put emotional energy into:
  • Making money, building financial security
  • Living in a comfortable, safe home
  • Having friends and being popular
  • Growing in influence, personal power or control over our environment
 Paul contrasts this with Heaven, the spiritual dimension, where treasure is defined as:
·         Growing in a self-sacrificial love relationship with Jesus through prayer, Bible study and worship
·         Growing in self-sacrificial love for our neighbour through acts of service, sharing what we have and care for the needs of the other
·         Upside down universe where we appear to have nothing – yet in reality we have everything

3. Jesus reminds that where our treasure is - shows where our heart is
It is the “how” of preparing for the End Time and our own death. Rending our heart – serious self-examination and repentance is the doorway to a serious spiritual life:
  • If we focus on material things – we lose out on spiritual things
  • If we seek success in the world – we are distracted from spiritual life
  • If we seek popularity in the world – we neglect our spiritual life
 4. Lent is a time to focus on developing our spiritual life
Many Christians have lost their identity as a spiritual person with a physical body. They think that all you have to do is be a good moral person, do no harm and when you die you will magically develop a holy personal spirit that is able to survive in the presence of God. This is the lie of Post-Christendom. The Bible and centuries of religious practice have taught us that:
  • God has reached out to every person in love
  • God desires an intimate love relationship of faithful obedience to His Commandments, our Baptismal Covenant and Jesus teachings
  • Those who believe and personally die to the treasures of this world receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide and convict them in developing a personal spiritual life that begins in the physical dimension and continues on in the Heavenly dimension
 Rending our hearts – serious self-examination and repentance is how we die to worldly treasures and grow in our personal spiritual life of joy!

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