Thursday, 6 March 2014
Sermon Ash Wednesday 2014: Rend Your Heart Not Your Clothes
Lent – repent - it even rhymes. That is usually what we think of - when we happen to think about Lent. Well perhaps not repenting but of giving up something for Lent. The idea being that we must give up - sacrifice something that we enjoy to observe a Holy Lent. It doesn’t mean much if we give up something that we don’t enjoy anyway does it.
There is value in giving up something. It focuses us on the important things in life that are not connected with the pleasures of life. It focuses on the spiritual things. Aren’t the spiritual things supposed to be serious and sombre and .. well… not really very much fun?
If that is true, what kind of a God is it that would create in us the capacity for joy and happiness and then tell us – no you cannot enjoy life. You must sacrifice and give up and lead a completely boring life.
I believe that is what Joel was getting at in the OT readings. As noted by a Roman Catholic Theologian I discovered on-line, the scripture for the opening of Lent, Joel 2:12-18, takes us back to a time of great danger in Israel. The land has been ravaged by locusts, the crops are failing. The very life of the population is in question. The prophet Joel, convinced that the people have brought the disaster upon themselves by virtue of their unfaithfulness, summons the House of Israel to repent its ways. But, interestingly enough, he does not call them to attend penance services in the synagogue. He does not require them to make animal sacrifices in the temple. He does not talk about public displays of remorse, the time-honored tearing of garments to demonstrate grief. No, Joel says instead, "Rend your hearts and not your clothing."
Lent – and particularly Ash Wednesday - is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not do. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.
I believe that what we need to look at in Lent - what we need to observe a Holy Lent is to seek and see – to identify those things which separate us from the love of God. Another way of saying that is to see what is sinful. That can take the form of denial – giving up something that takes our attention and energy and attraction away from God – something that encourages us to believe that the material things in life are the most important.
However, even more it is to rend your heart - finding that place in your heart where that connection to God is most clear and is most precious. It is to begin to peel away those things – one at a time – that separate us for the love of God. It is to find those things that we truly cherish about ourselves and others – those things that God has created in us that are most precious and that connect us most clearly and dearly to God. Find those things and strengthen them – cherish them. And observe a holy Lent.