Wednesday, March 01, 2017

To weep, or not to weep?

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Sometimes you just can’t win, can you?

Joel says, “Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning.”

Our Lord says, “When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.”

So which is it? Joel wants us to weep, Our Lord does not want us to have a sad countenance. 

Obviously, the words of Our Lord should trounce Joel, but we believe that the Holy Ghost speaks through the prophets. Is this a case of God contradicting Himself? If not, then is it possible to weep without having a sad countenance?


God always looks to the heart. This is where Joel and Our Lord are in obvious agreement. We remember St Paul’s words on Love: if we do things without Love, we gain nothing from them. Our motivation in all our practices must be devotion to God. This is a theme that we hear time and time again. Yet the world seems to forget this little message, doesn’t it? Isn’t it therefore a good idea to remind people when to fast by showing them that we are fasting rather than by yelling it into their ears with megaphones? If we do try to show them, then we risk falling back into the trap that Our Lord bids us beware.

In many ways, the hypocrites are doing a good thing. They are fasting and encouraging people to fast. That can only do these people good, surely? But notice how it produces the wrong type of devotion. It’s completely empty – just something to do for the sake of it. Empty devotion breeds empty devotion. If there’s nothing there to start with, then there cannot be anything there at the end. Unless…


Unless we fill that space with love. 

We have been preparing for Lent for a little while, examining ourselves, realising our shortcomings, and realising that our infirmities help us to glory in the Holy Ghost who dwells within us. It is the Holy Ghost that prevents us from being empty.

We are to approach Lent from the heart. Our tears of sorrow and repentance are to be private, genuine tears when we confront ourselves in the sight of God. We may shed them publicly, yet their origin is from the invisible centre of our soul and not shed in vain. We have the seal of Confession whereby we divulge our sins to a priest and receive the assurance of God’s forgiveness. That seal is not just for the priest to observe and thereby keep our sins out of the ears of all and sundry, but it is a seal for ourselves as well, to weep for them and then to push them away from us, released from their weight by God’s assurance of forgiveness.


Dust we are, and unto dust shall we return, but the love of God within us is Eternal. That is God’s assurance that our tears wept for our sins will be wiped away when we are raised with Him. Lent is always followed by Easter. Dust is always followed by Resurrection. Now is the time for fasting when all the Church weeps for the sins of her people. Then it will be time for feasting when the Church proclaims her song of joy.

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