Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (NRSV)
Chapter 2Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near Verse 2a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Verse 12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; Verse 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Verse 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Verse 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; Verse 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Verse 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
Lent is pressing upon us once again. In a few days many of us will receive the mark of the ashes on our foreheads—a reminder of our mortality, a symbol of our sin, an indicator of our contrition, repentance, and hope for forgiveness. The Ninevites received a harsh word of judgment from Jonah and responded with sackcloth and ashes—from royal throne room to the most destitute portions of the kingdom, people and animals not knowing their right hands from their left—and God spared them.
We, too, receive harsh words of judgment—from within and from without—and we, too, can respond with ashen contrition. Who knows if God will turn and relent and leave a blessing behind? We do! We have a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Let us return to God.
God, we come to you with fasting, weeping, and mourning trusting and hoping that you will turn our fasting to feasting, our weeping to laughter and our mourning into rejoicing. Amen.