Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants…Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O LORD, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17)
Church bells were once installed high on top of most every church building, ready to call people to prayer and worship. This was useful in city, town or village settings, as well as in rural areas where clusters of small family farms were close enough for the bells to be heard ringing out across the fertile countryside. Bells were often rung fifteen minutes before worship and then again at five minutes before worship, calling people and reminding them that “it is time for prayer, please come!” The bell was often rung again during the praying of the Lord’s Prayer, so that those still at their labors could at least join in with the prayer of the community.
Our reading from the prophet Joel is intended to call us to repentance, sanctification, and inward and outward cleansing—just as the Israelites were called to return to the Lord with their whole being. The passage begins with the LORD saying, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” The disobedience of the people had become rampant and any show of religiosity was often just that—an external show, not heartfelt worship and devotion. The situation was so severe that “nations” and “peoples” would look at Israel and question whether there was a God of Israel! If so, why would this God not do something—to call the people back to Him, to save them from their sin and disobedience? The behavior of the people of God was a witness to the world.
On Ash Wednesday, what is our witness to the world? Do our worship, prayer and devotional life manifest commitment to a living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Do we gather with the assembled congregation, entering together into the season of Lent for repentance, renewal and restoration? Is our discipleship a response of heart and life or an outward show meant to impress?
If only we had a trumpeter or a bell-ringer to call us to worship, prayer and sanctification/holiness on this important day when we cross the threshold into Lent. If only God would send us an alert on our phone that would indicate a text from the Living God that says, “Return to me with all your heart…for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…” Then again, maybe this is God’s “text message” to you today!
Prayer: Lord, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.
Lenten Response: Send the highlighted passage (bold text) above in a text or email to friends or family.
Video Devotional: From Ashes to Easter
Additional Daily Readings: Joel 2:12–19; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:10; Matthew 6:1–6
Weekly Reading: http://bit.ly/2DgeswJ
Today’s devotion was written by the Rev. Dr. David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism.