Ash Wednesday, February 13
By Adam Hange
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
On the 30th of March, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer.” He called “all the People to abstain…from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion…(that) the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
In the midst of a great and terrible Civil War, at a time when our still-young nation grabbled with its addiction to slave-labor and prejudice, Lincoln’s proclamation was a bold call to communal repentance. This story reminds me that Lent isn’t just about me, and what I decided to “give up” this year. Nine times out of ten, when the Biblical prophets called for repentance, it was communal repentance they were after. Lent is about all of us recognizing our corporate sins of commission and omission, and recommitting ourselves to doing better.
When, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, 1 in 6 is hungry, we have something to confess. When our natural world is continually being wrecked by our addiction to cheap energy, we have something to make amends for. When our financial prosperity rests on the backs of weak and poor laborers in slave-like conditions, we should beg for forgiveness. When our own children are killed by our love affair with violence and firearms…we should repent and pray, “God have mercy!”
My Lenten prayer, like Lincoln’s years ago, is that God will hear our corporate confessions, see our acts of humility, and will bring healing and restoration to our land. It doesn’t matter if you or I am to blame or not. The prophet Joel urges the people to gather the aged, the children, even infants, ones who couldn’t possibly be responsible … all are urged to join in the prayer of repentance. And not with empty gestures of repentance, but with real commitment let us all come together and work to bring change and justice to our world. This is the work of Lent. This is how we should begin. Together…and in prayer.
Prayer: O God, have mercy on us and forgive us all our sins. Teach us to walk in your ways of justice and life. Help us to make our congregation, our nation, and our world, places of blessing for all people. Hear our humble prayer. Amen.