Day One: Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1–2, 12–17 The Trumpet Sounds
A trumpet blows at the beginning and again near the end of this passage. It blows in the midst of the believers, like reveille awaking an army. The trumpet blows, and we are alerted to the fact that judgment is coming and that we should tremble. The trumpet blows a second time, calling us to solemn assembly and weeping.
Between the two bugle calls life happens, both its trembling and its hope. We all know days of darkness and thick clouds. We all know the feeling that overpowering armies are upon us and continue to advance over the horizon. “ ‘Yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.’ ” (v 12). The prophet Joel immediately encourages us toward God’s mercy, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows?” (v 13), asks Joel, perhaps the Lord will turn from punishing and “leave a blessing behind” instead.
God’s loving call is “Return to me.”
The scripture between the trumpets tries to describe the consequences of turning away from God, but Joel finally grows weary of painting the gloomy scene and simply asks, “Who can endure it?” (v. 11) God and Joel know the question is rhetorical. No one can endure it. Arguments too small often emerge here. Are we to give up something for Lent, or are we to add some new righteous activity to our busy routines and schedules? The call is to return. What will it require of us? Simply adding or subtracting for a season is an attempt to avoid the weeping and mourning that come with the realization that a turning is needed; a much deeper response.
Lent is a time of responding to God’s call, “Return to me.” At great cost, God steps into our struggle and calls us. We listen to the call and engage once again in a struggle of the soul. It is a dark time, a storm stirred by the clash of judgment and hope.
“Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’ ” (v.17). Joel asks the question of God and of us. We can drift so far away that God doesn’t seem to be in the picture with us. It seems to us and to those around us that God has walked away from us. In like manner, God’s judgment rained down on professed believers can cause observers to ask, “Where is their God?”… That is to say, the loving and merciful God. We, too, have asked, “Where is our God?” Jesus cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” All humans know the feeling; all humans know the isolation of the “day of darkness and gloom.”
Somehow, weeping is key. The first trumpet blows and there is weeping that wells up from fear and hopelessness, from sins that will not cease to haunt us. Then the second trumpet blows and our tears are spawned by the hope found in two little words, “what if?” What if God should relent from the punishment we deserve and bless us instead? Fresh tears come, although not as stinging as the earlier flow. But the tears of our returning must come. They must come from the priests and the people. The call, “return to me,” is directed toward priests and people and systems and structures.
The season of Lent sounds a terrible trumpet, a harsh and revealing trumpet. Hear its call and weep. Know the truth of its sounding. Hear its call and turn. Lord, help us to listen, accept, and see the truth; help us to return to you so that we might again rejoice in the sound of the trumpet.
A word about the series
The Lenten season has always inspired many people to create everything from poems, art and music to a completely new direction in their lives. This Lenten season Tabernacle will be exploring many of those creations in the hope of inspiring you to compose in a medium that is natural for you. The paintings in the Sanctuary are of the Biblical Stations of the Cross. The artist, Grieg Leach, completed them in 2010. They will help us to visualize the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition to the paintings there is a Lenten devotional booklet, Return to Me, which is available in print or online. The Stations of the Cross also inspired these devotions, written by Terry York of Baylor University. Living with these two bodies of artistic expression based on the Biblical Stations of the Cross throughout the season of Lent should help us as we seek to return our lives to God by walking with Jesus though his final days.
Pray, read, think and return to God.