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. 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 whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’" Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.
Today is Wednesday the 26 February, Ash Wednesday.
The choir of Holy Sepulchre London, directed by Peter Asprey sing Allegri’s Miserere mei. ‘Have mercy on me God, in your kindness, in your compassion, blot out my offence.’As you hear these voices making this beautiful plea for God’s mercy, look around you. Can you see the need for it? - Can you see a need for mercy here? For a few moments now, as you enter into prayer, ponder how much the world needs to hear the merciful, forgiving, compassionate word of God, and how much you may need to hear it, too.
Today’s reading is from the Prophet Joel.
The prophet Joel tells us, “Rend your hearts and not your clothing”. We are often concerned about our external appearance – how we look to other people – but God sees what is on the inside, what is in our hearts. Does this come to me as a threat,... or as a relief? ..... How would I describe what is in my heart as I sit here now?
Again and again, this reading speaks of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Unlike us human beings, God can be relied on never to bear a grudge, but to embrace us in love whenever we turn to him. Do I believe in this forgiveness? Do I want this forgiveness?
As I hear this invitation to turn back to God, do I feel that need in me? Is there something that I need to turn back from, somewhere I’ve been going wrong in my life, something I want to change? Though these words were written thousands of years ago, through them God speaks to us now.
As I listen to the passage again, I hear it this time as something addressed to me - God speaking personally to me.
How do I respond, here and now, to this appeal? What do I want to say to God right now?