Thursday, February 19, 2015
Homily for Ash Wednesday - "He Suffered Because of Us Sinners"
When children are baptized by Christ here at St. Paul we trace the sign of the cross upon their foreheads and their hearts to mark them as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. When we bury them we do the same. I carry a bottle of ashes and spread those ashes at the committal tracing the sign of the cross, saying “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Today, on Ash Wednesday, somewhere between your baptism and its completion in death – we trace the cross upon your forehead in ashes. Baptisms and funerals serve as a reminder that we come into this world naked and leave it in the very same way. We come from the substance of the earth and we return to dust. The ashes which we wear serve as a sobering reminder of the frailty of our lives. Our stuff, our achievements, and all the things which we think are so important are really not that important at all.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We acknowledge that our sins are actually serious. When we confess our sins we are not saying, “sorry Lord, I said a naughty word this week.” We are not confessing, “God, one time I was mean to somebody and I should have been more nice.”
No. Tonight we confess that our sins actually offend God and that the devil is cruel slave master. Sin is a serious matter. Our spouses and children pay dearly for it. They receive the brunt of our mood swings and bad attitudes. We have caused our own mothers to cry. We have crushed our children with our disapproval. We have been loveless, even holding a grudge against members of the household of faith here at St. Paul.
We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we have mattered most. Sin makes the good things in life no longer enjoyable. Sin crushes happiness. It stains the soul, it maims the body, and leaves us for dead. Sin kills.
The Prophet Joel tells us tonight that our sins are worth crying over. We should weep over our sins. They have already caused much sadness and destruction and they continue to do so. We begin lent. We resolve to live differently – living by faith in the Son of God. We set our faces toward Jerusalem.
After Adam sinned the Lord said “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The imposition of ashes is biblical. Joshua and the leaders of Israel repented of sins and covered themselves in ashes. King David, Job, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jonah did the same because they hoped for a man of dust who would come. God had promised a second Adam, a man of the earth Savior, born of the Virgin Mary. A man of dust coming down from heaven to suffer for your sins and lie down in death in a dusty tomb.
He took your place. Your sins became his. Your betrayals, depravities, the tears you have caused in others. Your mistrust, your anger, faithlessness, refusal to pray. Flirtations with coworkers, philandering, and broken vows. This is how sinners anointed our blessed and holy Jesus for stretching out his hands for nails, and feet to be driven through with metal spikes.
Yet even as he suffers he does this joyfully for you. Therefore, lent is not really a time to be sad or gloomy. It’s not even necessarily a time to give things up or stop eating things you like because Jesus is already out of the tomb! The train is already out of the station.
We mourn over the greatness of our sins but rejoice so more much more in the greatness of God’s love. A love better than Valentines Day. A love which does not consist of candy shaped hearts and corny hallmark messages, but a message of love etched out in in a blood soaked cross. Not a symbol of death but a symbol of eternal life!
Your foreheads are not just smeared with soot and ashes. Engraved upon your forehead is the sign of the holy life-giving cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Upon your forehead is a reminder that the devil, your sins, and the grave have no claim on you. No one can speak anything against you because Jesus is risen and ascended to the right hand of God, it is He who speaks on your behalf, interceding for you before the throne of grace.
He says nothing about you that is not glowing with approval. Your Father in heaven is not conflicted in how he thinks about you. He simply loves you as fervently and as joyfully as He loves His own Son. He can do none other.
So tonight begin your fasting by leaving behind your sins in the dusty tomb outside of Jerusalem because that’s where they belong, and then, take up the righteousness of God which belongs to you by faith in the Gospel. Jesus Himself plainly says “Whoever eats of my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So eat, drink and be merry. Set your face to Easter morning and trust that every grave shall be opened. Dust shall rise and those whose hope is in Jesus will not be disappointed. In the name of Jesus. Amen.