Ash Wednesday: Return to Me With All Your Heart

Ash Wednesday: Return to Me With All Your Heart
Drawing by James, age 14, Partners in Ministry, Laurinburg, North Carolina. From the 2021 Prayer Calendar.

Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Last week, the conference Spiritual Growth Coordinators and I convened for our quarterly meeting. At our check-in we reflected on Lent, asking ourselves how the meaning of Lent feels new or different this year. For some among us, there was a sense of loss of traditions with events not happening since we cannot be together. Some of us felt isolated, cut off from the community of our local units and churches. We found resonance with the suffering of Lent, thinking about the literal loss of life and how injustice has been further revealed and experienced throughout the pandemic.

The Old Testament text for Ash Wednesday reflects some of these feelings. In Women’s Bible Commentary Juliana Claassens writes that the book of Joel “offers a prime example of theology done in the context of extreme trauma.” Generally considered to be a reflection of the postexilic period, this text speaks from a community trying to come to terms with a series of hardships that have occurred. As the text opens, there is a sense of fear and danger. The tone conveys the feelings of people who have been in pain for a long time.

And then the text turns. As this community processes their experiences, they hear the calling of God to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning….” Bring yourselves to God and know that God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love.

A Sense of Opportunity

Similarly, within our conversation about Lent, we also found a sense of opportunity, connection and hope. We reflected on where we were last year when much of this was new. We were then sitting with the fear and challenge of the new reality that disrupted plans and created confusion about how to even safely host Lent. This year there are opportunities to see faces and make connections via virtual services and Bible studies. We have developed new skills to utilize in planning Lenten activities, and are thinking creatively around how to reach our sisters in areas without stable internet connection.

This year, God invites us in bringing all of our hearts. We have the space to feel the realities of our grief and struggle and continued distance and loss. We have the opportunity to remember Christ and what he stood for, and center ourselves in the core of our faith. And we have the opportunity to remember that our faith keeps us going, and that at the end there is resurrection – a power greater than death and loss.

Prayer: Holy God, we walk with you and with Jesus this Lenten season. We come with our whole hearts knowing that we are not alone and that there is hope in the resurrection. Amen.

Nora Asedillo Cunningham is the Spiritual Growth and Formation Specialist with United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 2/15/2021 12:00:00 AM