Even now, says the LORD,return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Perhaps he will again relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the LORD, your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.
~Joel 2:12-18 Reading I - Ash Wednesday
Today we hear from the prophet Joel a summons to penitence. With Ash Wednesday we enter into a time in the liturgical year of intense focus on our relationship with God. Every relationship has an aspect of self-gift, and this is all the more true in our relationship with God. Yet, in order to give ourselves we must first come to know who we are in our relationship to the other and who they are in relationship to us. This season of Lent begins with God inviting us to enter into the profound realization that we are sinners and by our sin we have separated ourselves from God. Without the humble acknowledgement of this fact relationship with God is impossible. We cannot turn to God if we don't know that we are turned away from Him.
God is inviting us to see where we are, to look into our hearts and see where our deepest desires really lie; where is the focus of our heart? In what ways have we turned away from God? How do we continue to turn away from Him? And then He invites us to turn away from the path of sin and death and to choose life.
It is only when we acknowledge that we are in need of saving that we can come to know and accept the Savior.