“Even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. 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.” Joel 2:12-13
“The Return of the Prodigal Son,” Rembrandt, 1663-1665
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day many Christians set aside as a special day. It is a day to remember our humanness and mortality. It is a day to begin the season of Lent, a time for reflection, penitence, and preparation for Easter . . .
. . . Like Adam, we have come from dust, and to dust we will return. Throughout our lives, our dusty bodies remind us of our [humanity], when they get sick, or when they work imperfectly, or when they age, or when they stop working altogether . . .
. . . Ash Wednesday begins with bad news . . . but also signifies hope. The ashes that are imposed on our heads form the shape of a cross. Sometimes these crosses are obvious; sometimes more subtle. But the very stuff that symbolizes our [humanity] and sin also alludes to that which will set us free. It reminds us that God has entered into our human condition in order to break the power of sin and welcome us into the fullness of his life.
Yet Ash Wednesday is not Good Friday. It is not a day to focus on the cross so much as a time to begin to realize just how much we need the cross.
. . . Like millions of Christians throughout the world, today I will be reminded of my [humanity]. I have come from dust, and to dust I shall return. Thanks be to God, this is not the end of the story, but just the beginning, because God himself entered into my dustiness in Jesus Christ.
I am meditating on Psalm 84 this morning with the help of Johannes Brahms. His German Requiem is impressive. The first time I heard it was with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Movement 4 is Psalm 84, “How Lovely Are Thy Dwelling Places [Tabernacles].” This piece moved me completely–more than any of the others. Serene. Restful. Contented. All the troubles of my world melted away for a short time.
Using Luther’s translation of Psalm 84, Brahms brings these words to life with a breathtaking score. Brahms’s personal story is a victory over physical and psychological abuse–one who understands personal loss. This encourages me as I listen. I hear the triumphant call and invitation to find a home in the Lord Jesus. Even the sparrow wants a place near Yahweh’s dwelling place,
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar
I found a You Tube video with the Philharmonic Orchestra playing Brahms “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen.” The way I like to listen is with my headphones. And, since I see better with my eyes closed, I close my eyes and let the words of the psalmist and Brahms’ music wash over me. Here is the english translation:
How lovely are thy tabernacles,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, even faints
for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh cries out
for the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will always be praising thee. Psalm 84:1,2,4
If we love a human being and do not love God,
we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude,
and when we do not get it, we become cruel and vindictive;
we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give.
There is only one Being who can satisfy the last aching abyss
of the human heart and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why our Lord is apparently so severe regarding
every human relationship is because he
knows that every relationship not
based on loyalty to Himself
will end in disaster.
[Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (July 30), 154]
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.