By Ed Little
A Reading from Joel 2:12-19
12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 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.
14 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?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16 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.
17 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?’”
18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land,
and had pity on his people.
19 In response to his people the Lord said:
I am sending you
grain, wine, and oil,
and you will be satisfied;
and I will no more make you
a mockery among the nations.
Most Episcopalians, and rightly so, associate this passage with Ash Wednesday, since a large portion of today’s reading is assigned that day. But read in context — the plague of locusts and the introspection that followed — the passage is even more powerful. God, Joel tells us, is making both a demand and a promise in the face of disaster.
The demand is for repentance. “Return to me,” God says, “with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.” While the natural disaster forced the people of Israel to look inward and confront their own misdeeds, there’s never a time when repentance is out of order. The Ash Wednesday liturgy, in fact, reminds us that Christians must “continually renew their repentance and faith” (BCP, p. 265). Repentance involves a turning: the recognition that we’re headed in the wrong direction, and the decision to change course. For Christians, this is a daily decision. Joel reminds us that it is an urgent decision as well.
The promise centers on the character of God himself. God yearns for us be restored. “Who knows whether [God] will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?” Even more, Joel hears God making a promise. “I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations.” Although we rebel against God, he is not done with us — far from it. Centuries later, St. Paul will underscore this message with an astounding statement: “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The heart of God draws us back to himself, and he will stop at nothing to fulfill his purpose.
The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Rupert’s Land (Canada), the Rt. Rev. Geoffrey J Woodcroft
Diocese of Dogura (Papua New Guinea), the Rt. Rev. Tennyson Bogar
Community of St. Mary, Eastern Province, Greenwich, New York