Ash Wednesday: A reflection on the collect of the day

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. —BCP, p. 217

Listening to the Agnus Dei from the Bach B minor Mass. and Erbarme dich from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, both sung by Andreas Scholl.

Scriptures of the day:
| Joel 2:1-2,12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10Matthew 6:1-6,16-21 |  Psalm 103 or 103:8-14 |

“You hate nothing you have made…” What a powerful statement of affirmation for all of us who have, for one reason or another, felt like God must have made some sort of mistake or left something out when putting us together in our mother’s womb.

It’s tempting for me, to stop there and bask in the knowledge that I am accepted, just as I am. Who doesn’t want to hear someone say to us “you’re okay, just as you are”? Yet, in true collect fashion, however, the prayer pulls us deeper. Not only do we affirm God’s love for us, we ask God to change us! Isn’t this a contradiction? Are we or aren’t we okay just as we are? What’s the deal with all the talk of sin and penitence and acknowledging our wretchedness?

The scriptures for the day also speak of the need for change in our actions and attitudes. The prophet Joel presents a God who asks us to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” The author of 2 Corinthians urges us to “be reconciled to God.” Even Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew assumes that there will be an attitude of penitence.

It is difficult for those of us who are transitioning out of a tradition of shame and into a tradition of blessing to acknowledge that part of the Gospel, the good news of Christ, refers to a state of being where everything is not ideal, that we somehow have become estranged from the source of life and light and all goodness by actions we have taken or through attitudes we, ourselves, have held. Before we receive the good news that all is restored, forgiven, redeemed, we are invited to look at the places in our lives where we feel distant from God.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Ash Wednesday: A reflection on the collect of the day

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