From our Collect this evening we learn that God despises nothing and the Collect is based on Psalm 51 (v. 17). Nothing in all of God’s creation is despised by God, the one who created it all. God doesn’t despise you or me or anyone. God loves us and forgives our sins, the sins of anyone who is penitent.
In our Collect this evening we ask God for help; help to create and make in us new and contrite hearts; hearts that are truly remorseful and regretful, lamenting sins and acknowledging brokenness; hearts that are new, hearts that are able to receive God’s mercy; able to receive God’s forgiveness; God’s perfect remission (that is, God’s ability to reduce our sins to less than ashes, to reduce our sins to nothing).
And far from being a sad night – the beginning of yet another Lent – tonight is a time of rejoicing – because we proclaim a God of love, mercy and forgiveness. We proclaim a God who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
From the book of the Prophet Joel it says that, God is, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” That’s Good News of the highest order. And this evening’s Psalm says, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness…” How awesome is that? How awesome is our God?
Lent, to be sure, is a time of fasting, a time of preparation for Easter, the great day when we celebrate the resurrection and all that the resurrection means for the world.
Lent is forty days of preparation for fifty days of celebration.
Tonight, our liturgy invites us to observe a holy Lent – by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and by studying scripture.
Lent is not something God needs, it is something we need. The pulse of life naturally flows from feasting to fasting and back again. It is as if there is a need, deep inside of us, where self-denial creates a longing for an opportunity to celebrate our great appreciation for God’s great gifts of creation, salvation and continuing presence with us.
Yesterday, on Shrove Tuesday we feasted, today we start a fast. Denying ourselves the excesses of modern living so that we can dedicate, or re-dedicate our lives, our whole lives to the One from whom all things came into being, to God – the very ground of all that is.
This evening, you may if you wish, come forward and receive the imposition of ashes and to hear the words, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ashes are, on the one hand, an ancient symbol of penitence, of the contrite hearts we prayed for in the Collect this evening. Therefore, the ashes symbolize our acknowledgement of our sin, of our separateness from God and our utter need for restoration of that primary relationship with the divine.
On the other hand, ashes are symbolic of the very stuff of creation, that which came out of no-thing, that which exists solely by the will of God. And that, the ashes that will be smudged on our foreheads this evening, reminds us that God despises nothing that God has made. Nothing in all of God’s creation is despised by God, the one who created it all. God doesn’t despise you or me or anyone. God loves us and forgives our sins, those words, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” are a kind of love letter, a reminder from God that God loves us, as God loves all that God has made, from the carbon molecules in these ashes to animals of every kind, including us humans.
How awesome is that? How awesome is our God? Amen.