Ash Wednesday

February 17, 2021


Grace and peace to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Reflecting on words Jesus said on the cross – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) – let’s pray: Heavenly Father, sanctify  us in your Word, your Word is truth. (Amen.)  

Dear Christian Friends, do you know what you are doing? I dare say you do – you’ve made a special effort to read this  far! – to read a worship service on a Wednesday not a Sunday – you can articulate cause and effect – purpose and  behaviour – I am doing this because it is Lent – Lent is the time in the Christian calendar which focuses on the suffering  and death of Jesus – his faithfulness to his people – the people of his kingdom – that meant he never deviated from the  path to his coronation – crowned and killed on his throne of the cross – he died for us and, raised again, he thus reigns  and rules and rescues. Yes, we know what we’re doing. 

And it is very unlikely that this is your first Ash Wednesday service ever – but if this is your first Ash Wednesday since  you’ve come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – maybe you can feel pretty clear about your answer – but I suggest that  you can also read the rest of this address while I speak to the rest of us – we who say we know what we’re doing but are  back again.  

Do you know what you’re doing? Actually we generally don’t like this sort of question. We bristle at the suggestion and  might snap an answer back in a classroom, around the family meal table, at work. And we might even snap an answer  back to God – easy to do when all you have is his Word rather than seeing him right in front of you – of course, I know  what I’m doing! 

Jesus said from the cross after he was nailed to it, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”  (Luke 23:34) and I suspect the execution detail would have just shaken their heads – deluded fool – we know how to crucify – you’re skewered and going to die, mate. But Jesus’ words hang there nonetheless – someone who dared to say  – you don’t know what you’re doing – and I still forgive you. 

Jesus was not talking about our ignorance or lack of knowledge through poor education but humanity’s deliberate and  wilful rejection of him. He didn’t come as God did strolling in the Garden – but as God in disguise – God masked so to  speak – God unexpected, as one of us – his words and signs spoke clearly as to who he is – and what happened to him  was the deliberate action of humanity when confronted with God who comes to save and help and rescue. We kill. 

Now this isn’t logical. The person who spurns the rescuer’s hand gets what he deserves we would say – and should feel  the full consequence of that action. The person who knows the truth and yet deliberately repudiates it in words and  deeds is not only crazy but devious and delusional. The irrational stubbornness that clings to our behaviour – our  incessant need to be right or at least the centre of the known world – and then if we’re wrong, we don’t care – is part  and parcel of life today. The disjunction between thoughts and deeds – knowing something is wrong, inappropriate,  hurtful, destructive and yet still doing them is bizarre at best and perverse at worst – forever using words to cast  ourselves in the best possible light and so people can exaggerate, spin, twist, deceive, distort the language we use – something so common now-a-days that we have become so sceptical of words in general. 

We say we are here because of Jesus. True. I’ll accept that if you say so. But Ash Wednesday and Lent stops us short  and forces us one step back – why this Jesus? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He is  here to forgive us because we need it because we are sinners. Our sinful flesh, our sinful self, simply rebels at any  message or truth that knocks us away from centre stage in our lives. Our behaviour reflects this in countless ways – how  we treat others, how we behave in public, more so how we behave in private or when no one is watching, how we think  and speak about ourselves and others. And we are here tonight because we haven’t got it right still. If sin is ignorance,  learn. If sin is behavioural, change. If sin is complacency, feel the consequences. That is how the world solves the  human condition and problems – education, therapy, justice – and these are good things in this world. Nevertheless we  are here because, at a fundamental level, these things don’t work – we can know the right thing, we can be empowered  to do the right thing, we can accept reward or punishment – and still we sin and ruin our lives and the lives of those  around us. There is a quality of sin that is perverse, mysterious, seductive, that we don’t wish to lose because it means  losing something of us that we cherish – our desire to be god, our pride. And the only help that deals with sin comes to  us from outside – from Jesus who tells it as it is – Repent and believe the good news.  

Why should we? We know what we’re doing!  

And then we are taken – at the beginning of each Divine Service with the confession of sins and as we read God’s Word  and the Law confronts us fair and square with our sin or as we hear God’s Word from a person who says to us “You  have sinned” – and brought to the place we don’t by nature wish to be – the foot of the cross and we hear “Father,  forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. 

Jesus was broken so that we might live. The process is the same for us but where breaking us would destroy us – now  broken in repentance, we may live – and in Baptism we also have another identity – child of God, disciple of Jesus,  your name is now spoken by God who says that he has called us by our name and given us life with him – and so we  live and we now know what we are doing – struggling with the sin that plagues us still. 

And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. [Amen]