Rend Your Heart

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD,
   “return to me with all your heart,
   with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
   and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
   for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
   and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
   and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
   for the LORD your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
   declare a holy fast,
   call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
   consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
   gather the children,
   those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
   and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the LORD,
   weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, LORD.
   Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
   a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
   ‘Where is their God?’”

Joel 2:12-17

Historically there have been two fixed fasts in the Christian calendar. One is today and the other is Good Friday. Fasting is not simply about not eating or giving up certain foods. It is about being humble in the presence of God (Isaiah 58:3-4); for example, David fasts after his indiscretion with Bathsheba has led to her pregnancy.

Lent is time to tear our hearts and return to the Lord.  Everyone – men, women, the old and the young – are called to fasting and prayer that indicates to God their sincerity and love. If the people did what Joel proposed, it must have been quite a sight. Just imagine the whole of our nation or community united in sorrow for its sin.

Today, Lent has become identified with ‘giving something up’. It works on a simple level: eat something nice on Shrove Tuesday, then deny it to yourself and return to it at the end of the fast on Easter Sunday, when you will appreciate it all the more. In this way, the spiritual season is physically marked out, but it is very different from what Joel had in mind.

At its heart, Lent is a period in which we are invited to renew our relationship with God, to ‘deny ourselves’ and ‘take up the cross’. There is no point in giving up chocolate, alcohol, sugar, caffeine or some activity if doing so is actually quite easy. Lent is not about what you give up, but about what you do. Therefore, if there is something that comes between us and God, it is good to abandon it in Lent, not only in order to draw closer to God but also to engage in the spiritual discipline of self-denial.

Lord Christ, may we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Help us turn away from sin to he faithful to you. Amen

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