Tonight was special. Not only did I get to think about my mortality on my birthday, incredibly appropriate as that might be, I was able lead worship with an incredible group of Christ-followers, and I saw scripture come alive. We worshiped together tonight – hundreds of children, youth, college students, and adults – and it was incredible.
Our text for the evening was from the lectionary: Joel 2:12-17,
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?'”
As we assembled in our more contemporary worship center, it was the most raucous Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever been a part of. Little girls were dancing in the aisles as we sang. Kids were literally cheering the images Jeremy shared – images of the bread and cup, and images of the cross! And somehow it was a beautiful picture of what it must have been like in the solemn fast that the leaders of God’s people called so long ago – the aged, children, and even infants gathered to consider their lives. Even then, responding to God’s call to repentance, the children must have giggled in the crowds.
There was an incredible beauty in being able to tell tonight’s assembly that their lives wouldn’t last forever, and then to be able to share the paradoxically good news of the cross. God is incredible, and even as we enter this season of discipline and examination in preparation for Easter, the joy of Christ was present. Tonight we gathered the people, we called for a Lenten fast, and the Lord indeed left a blessing behind.