God is with us in Word and Sacrament

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

2 Peter 1:2–11

+ IN NOMINE IESU +

Lent is about the journey of Jesus Christ to His Passion, His cross, and His death. For us it’s a time of preparation to journey with Him to the Cross and the Empty Tomb. The Church is always prepared in the same way—through repentance. To prepare for her Easter celebration, the Church marks off forty days of special preparation called Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday. It is a time reminiscent of our Lord’s fasting in the desert and the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness. During Lent, especially, the Church urges her members to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Even as true repentance is not simply feeling sorry for our sins, but it is turning away from our sins, leaving them behind, and turning toward God with faith in Jesus, so likewise, Lent is not so much a time of giving things up as it is a time for adding things that increase our awareness of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.

The customs of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are indeed fine outward training. But they are not the sole goal. They are meant to help you and aid you in your devotion. The Church encourages you to make use of them, and more specifically to make an increased use of the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacraments.

But there is more to this journey with Christ. There is more to this time of preparation than repentance, than feeling sorrow over our sins, leaving them behind, and turning toward God with faith in Jesus for forgiveness. We are on a much larger journey than to the Cross and the Empty Tomb. For Jesus also ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. He blazed the trail for us to follow Him there, even as He bids us to follow Him here. And so, Lent is also a time of encouragement. It’s a time when the people of God are encouraged to fight the good fight of faith, not to give up the way of Christ and give in to the ways of this world. It’s a time for us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and where He leads. He leads us to the Cross. He leads us to the Empty Tomb. But He also leads us to the Father in heaven. For that is our true home. We are but sojourners here, making our way through the wilderness of this world, through this valley of sorrows, through this vale of tears, to live with Him in His heavenly kingdom which has no end.

To aid in this preparation and encouragement, we will be reading through and meditating upon St. Peter’s First Letter to the Church, which was written to Christians dispersed throughout Asia Minor. It is a letter of consolation and encouragement for those who are suffering, to resist pressures for social conformity and to stand fast in faith, hope, and love as they make their journey with Christ to their true home. In the face of pressures to conform to the culture around them, St. Peter reminds his hearers to that baptism and faith in Christ has made them a unique community, a people who were once not a people, and that their conversion required them to be not conformed to this world but be transformed by repentance and faith in Him who died, was raised, and ascended into heaven.

In response to the waning of hope caused by this suffering, St. Peter reassures and encourages these Christians of God’s faithfulness, His judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous, and His vindication of those who remain faithful. St. Peter reminded them, and likewise reminds us, of our common election and call, of our participation in the suffering of our resurrected and ascended Lord, and of our life of holy obedience to God made possible through the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirt in God’s Word. He reminds us that God the Father through the holy blood of Jesus Christ poured out on the cross and into the cup, has gathered us together into a spiritual family which is wholly different in its origin and goal from those of this world. We are strangers. We our sojourners. This is not our home. We are on a life-long journey with Christ, yes even, in Christ to the Cross and the Empty Tomb, to be sure, but also to our true home in heaven.

As with every journey, two things come into focus. First, the longing for home. And second, the necessity of leaving things behind, of not being able to take everything with you. Both of these things can be difficult for us to wrap our heads around. Unlike the Christians whom St. Peter is addressing, we live as citizens in our own country with our own homes and in relative comfort. But it is not entirely escaped on us. For we have all yearned to go home to the people we love. When we go on vacations, as enjoyable as it might have been, we eventually say “It’ll be good to get back home.” And this is true even on a daily basis, when we go to work and look forward to the end of the day, to going home and to rest. We all know the feeling of yearning for home, the feeling of yearning to be at peace with those whom we love.

And as with any journey, we must leave things behind. We can’t take everything with us. And it is in this task that Lent is so helpful. It teaches us that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So we leave everything behind that would weigh us down, that would keep us from obtaining the outcome of our faith. This is repentance. It is a turning away from all that is sinful in us and leaving it behind, so that we may turn toward God with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

Peter wrote:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For in this way, that is, by turning away from sin in repentance and turning toward God with faith in Christ who forgives our sins and provides our entrance into His eternal kingdom, we leave sin behind in the practice of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And we live out our faith in the one who died, was raised, and ascended, always longing for this eternal kingdom, our true home.

And so it is that this daily yearning for our earthly homes and for those whom we love is to be a reminder of our yearning for our true home, our heavenly home. We are not to be lulled into thinking and believing that this present place is all there is. We long for a better country, heaven. For our journey is not simply to work and home again, on vacation and home again. Our journey is toward salvation. We have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Our journey is with and in Christ: to the Cross, to the Empty Tomb, to the Father in heaven, just as our Lord. And so we follow Him in repentance and faith, for He is leading us home. Amen.

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