Guest Contributor
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Ash Wednesday, February 17
Joel 2:1-17

Contributed by Darrell Guder

"Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.”

From early on the Christian movement understood itself as a pilgrimage.
Within its story from year to year it encountered both the wonders of God’s
goodness and the harsh realities of its recurring rebellion. Lent evolved as a
season of preparation for Easter. The outcome would be the joyous
celebration of new life, but the pathway there was marked by the grim
confrontation with our sinfulness and need for cleansing.
There is a profound tension in the life of pilgrimage. Joel describes the
pilgrimage of God’s people by posing the tension between Eden lost, and
Easter coming: “Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns.
The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, but after them a desolate
wilderness, and nothing escapes them” (Joel 2:3). Ashes remind us of all the
ways that our pathway is marked by wilderness and rebellion. And at the
same time, the ashes point us to the constant hope of growth towards
goodness in the people’s life.
The prophet admonishes us: “Yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with
all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your
hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious
and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:12-11).
The ashes will be cleansed away, the pilgrimage will continue, and we will
“blow the trumpet in Zion and sanctify a fast,” which in some fifty days we will
celebrate with our risen and forgiving Lord.

Gracious God, as we embark upon this year’s Lenten pilgrimage, may we
confront our need for cleansing and renewing, and claim the good news of
forgiveness and new life. Amen.

Darrell Guder is the professor of missional and ecumenical theology emeritus of Princeton
Theological Seminary. He serves as Senior Fellow in Residence at St. Andrew’s Hall,
exploring how missional leadership can be equipped for the pilgrimage of witness in Cascadia
and beyond.