February 25, 2009
Text: Joel 2:12-19
Rend your hearts, beloved in the Lord. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Rend your hearts, for your Lord Jesus Christ has rent His heart, His whole body, for you and for your salvation. Your Lord Jesus has come to take away your sin and death, to take it into Himself, into His body and soul, all the way to the tree of the cross. Therefore repent, turn to Him, turn away from your sin and death, turn to Jesus Christ in faith and behold His great love for you, love crucified. Rend your hearts and return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning over all that sin has wrought. “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13; ESV).
Repentance begins with God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, that God was in Christ reconciling the world, reconciling you and me to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ has made the full payment for our sins. He has cancelled our debt to God. He has restored us to the Father. His sacred head, His sacred body, was wounded for us, His wounded people, that His blood might cover our iniquity. That is what it means that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He shows this on the cross of Christ, the sacrifice of His own dear Son into death for our forgiveness and life. And so it is that we now turn to the Lord in repentance. Repentance means a turning, or returning. It means turning from the sin to which we are once enslaved, turning to God who alone can grant salvation. It means a forsaking of ourselves and our selfish, sinful desires, a dying to self. And we can only do this because of what Christ has done for us. We can only deny ourselves for Christ’s sake because Christ first denied Himself for our sake. Repentance is an act of faith in the One crucified for our sins. For only if we believe in Him, only if we believe and trust that He did all this for our salvation, only if we know He loves us, will we be sorry for our great transgressions. Only when we realize that our sins nailed Him to the tree, that the depth of His suffering is a result of our sin, that His love for fallen humanity, for you, for me, caused God to take on our flesh, suffer, and die… only when we realize this and believe it and trust it will we be repentant.
Therefore rend your hearts. Let your repentance be marked, as the LORD says through the prophet, with fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12). It is good that we have gathered together this evening to be marked with ashes and reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is good to gather together and confess our sins before God. Again, as the LORD says through the pen of the prophet Joel, “consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber” (vv. 15-16). We not only repent as individuals, but as the congregated people of God, the holy Christian Church. And no one is excluded. Even the children and nursing infants are to be marked with the ashes of repentance, for they too are sinful and need salvation in Christ. Even the bridegroom and bride are called forth from their chamber for this sacred, penitential assembly. That is why there are no weddings during Lent, incidentally. Lent is a time set apart for just this fasting and consecration the prophet speaks of here. It is a time for sober reflection, for brutal honesty about our sinful condition, and for confession. It is a time to recognize that we are sinners, each one of us, you and me, and that the wages of sin is death. Thus the ashes. Remember, o man, remember, o woman, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
But don’t forget that you are marked with ashes in the sign of the cross. That is to say, this is not fasting and weeping and mourning just for the sake of it. It is fasting and weeping and mourning that recognizes that we have a Deliverer from sin, a Deliverer from death, our Lord Jesus Christ. It recognizes that we were marked with His cross first in our Baptism, upon our forehead and upon our heart; that we have ever since received the benefits of His cross in His blessed Word and the Sacrament of His body and blood; that there will be an end to this fasting and weeping and mourning. It recognizes that Good Friday will give way to Easter, that this body of dust destined to be returned to the dust will also be raised again. We fast now, we weep now, we mourn now, because we long for this final deliverance from sin and death. And it is coming. It is already ours in Christ Jesus. But it has not yet been fully revealed. We still struggle with sin. Unless Jesus returns first, each of us has to die. And so the ashes. But always in the sign of the cross, always in the sign of our deliverance.
There are forty days of Lent, not counting Sundays, starting today. This is a time set aside for the solemn assembling of God’s people for repentance and forgiveness. It is a time in which “God’s baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God’s people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people’s zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God.” Therefore rend your hearts, beloved. Rend your hearts knowing that God will put them back together again, good as new, better than new in fact, made perfect in Christ Jesus. Rend your hearts knowing that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, that a broken and a contrite heart He will not despise. Rend your hearts knowing that the sacred head of our Lord Jesus Christ was wounded, pierced, beaten, for His wounded people, for you, for your healing, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Rend your hearts, receiving the sign of the holy cross, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 This year’s Lenten series is based on the book, Sacred Head, Now Wounded (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009). While the theme and many of the concepts of the series are drawn from the book, the sermons are my own.
 Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) p. 26.