We are ambassadors for Christ, St Paul reminds us today, We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
The popular vision of Lent is a time when those crazy Christians give up chocolate for no easily discernible reason, and to no real benefit. Given the overwhelmingly secular society in which we live, I always find it hard to give up chocolate, as Cadbury’s Mini Eggs only seem to be available during Lent. Nobody seems to have told them that the Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and continues with seven weeks of feasting and celebrations. Celebrations and feasting in which it is impossible to obtain Mini Eggs.
But I digress.
The First Reading for Ash Wednesday, from Joel, shows God yearning for his people. His people have, once again, strayed from the path of righteousness that he laid out for them and have abandoned all that is good in the Law, offering all the sacrifices in the Temple and doing all the rituals and ceremonies, but never actually loving God.
Return to me, says God, return to me with all your heart. He is no longer interested in burnt offerings or the trappings of repentance. He wants good, honest atonement, so he and his people can be at one. He reminds us, once more (because we’re a bit slow) that he is rich in mercy, abounding in kindness. It is in his nature to relent, even after the sentence has been passed.
So we blow the trumpet, proclaim a fast and gather all the people. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God made manifest in the body of his son, Jesus. Jesus, the Word through whom God created the universe, truly present to us in the Eucharist, who died to save us from ourselves.
We must be careful with the manner of our fasting, of course, lest we fall into the same trap that Joel mentioned in the first reading. When we fast, we do it silently, with cheerful faces and jovial hearts, otherwise, we are not fasting for the Lord, we are fasting for ourselves. We have had our reward.