Ash Wednesday Reflection: Return to the LordMarch 1, 2017 - Spirituality & Theology
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart.
This, to me, gets to the very heart of the Lenten season. Return to me with your whole heart. Return to me, the Lord says, but not just partly. Return to me fully, with your entire being. Christ tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come to me, He says, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest. And we are all heavy-burdened indeed, for all of us are sinners. We constantly turn away from love and kindness itself in preference to a sinful life. The world tempts us with worldly, temporal pleasures. We are constantly enticed on all sides by things that only bring temporary happiness, and the happiness that it brings is hardly true. It is a cheap imitation of that which only Christ Himself can offer us. The way of the world that offers us an easy path, filled with pleasures, is a lie. It is empty when we compare it to Christ, who Himself is the very Way we are to follow.
And we have nothing to fear in trusting our very lives to our Risen Lord. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. All He asks is that we return to Him with repentant hearts. He asks for repentant hearts not because He wishes to impose barriers, but because it is necessary. We cannot walk in the way of the Lord, we cannot grow closer to Him unless we recognize that we ourselves are broken, that we are sinners. Our cry to the Lord must be “Be merciful, O Lord, for I have sinned.” The psalmist today writes:
For I acknowledge my offense,
and my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight.”
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
This is the very spirit, the very attitude which we are to have. We must recognize our failings, and bring them before Lord with a humble, contrite heart. Rend your hearts, the prophet Joel writes, and return to the Lord.
But in our contrition, in our penance, we should not look gloomy like the hypocrites. We should not look sad and downtrodden. And not just, as Christ says in the Gospel, so that we avoid earthly rewards in light of heavenly ones, but also because Lent, in a sense, is a season of great joy. It is a season which the Church sets aside as 40 days dedicated to growing closer to our Lord. Forty days when we can cast aside the sin that plagues our lives and grow in our love for Christ, God who became Man, who died to destroy sin, and rose to open the way to eternal life. The season of Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, the very pinnacle of human history. So let us, with the mark of ashes on our foreheads, go forth in repentance, but also in great joy, proclaiming the Good News with our words and deeds. We must not wait until next year, or next month, or even tomorrow to begin our journey back to the Lord. We must begin today. For behold: now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.