Whatever became of sin? – Joel 2 vs 1 - 2 & 12 - 13
Once upon a time, on this day, Ash Wednesday, many people would be seen with that little cross of grey ash on their foreheads. It was a sign of the beginning of Lent, a forty-day time of meditation, fasting, prayer, acknowledgement of sin and a turning back to God in preparation for Easter. In this year I’m not sure how this will work but one thing is clear, there will be many more people wearing facemasks than there ever were with ash on their heads! They are the new norm right across the world. Covid-19 has brought a heightened sense of our mortality. The masks are a daily reminder of death and our susceptibility to it. That’s what the ash is for: “for dust you are and unto dust you shall return” (Gen.3:19).
Joel 2:1-2, 12-13 is a reading for Ash Wednesday. It encourages us to consider this human frailty. We are given a picture of a plague. Not of a virus but of locusts. We should be able to get in tune with this after what we have been through over the past year. It spreads with military precision across the land. Even the garden of Eden becomes a desert when this plague has passed (2:3). This word is a trumpet blast, an alarm (2:1) to Israel of bad times coming. It warns them of their mortality, that death is all around them and will finally culminate in the “day of the Lord” (2). They are on the brink of judgement for their sin. This is what we are supposed to reflect on during Lent. But do we?
In 1973 the psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote an astute book entitled, Whatever Became of Sin? He warned that should this concept of sin become eliminated from open cultural discourse, any hope or thought of a moral society would inevitably vanish. 48 years later what do we find? This man was something of a prophet! Largely ignored!
He was right to ask. Through most of Christian history, you came to church to be encouraged to confess and have your sins forgiven; now people come to hang out with people they like, and to see if the preacher agrees with their views of the world. In our culture, it’s an uphill battle to persuade people, even Christians, that they are in fact sinners. What must we do from within these modern plague days?
“Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” (2:12). That’s all about serious repentance, turning away from sin. God wants Israel to return to Him...to taste His grace, His compassion, His abounding love (2:13). It’s not an outward thing. It’s not about church, or religion, even putting some ash on your head. It’s about the heart. The place where our sin holds sway and then flows out into our lives to cause chaos. There is hope!
What is this hope? “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (2:32). The whole Bible makes it plain that this is Jesus. No other way to survive the coming day of the Lord. On the day of the Lord the unstoppable army of judgement will pass over the Israelites...at the end of time, those who are found in Jesus will be saved...forever! In Lent we are moving forward to Easter...called to make room for Jesus...our Saviour from sin!