Most beloved in the Lord: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today marks the beginning of a season of prayer and repentance in the church. From today until Easter Sunday, we remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. We take this time, then, to examine our hearts, repent of our wrongdoing, and receive Christ's forgiveness.
All of which constitutes the discipline of repentance in the season of Lent, helps us in our spiritual struggle, and prepares us to joyfully celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. Prayer and almsgiving are fruits of faith throughout the year. In the offering or personal charity we show the love that God showed us in Jesus Christ to those who need something material, also the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. In worship and prayer we sacrifice our time to glorify our God and give our attention to His will and not our own.
In the season of Lent, the traditional ways of expressing repentance are fasting and the imposition of ashes. These practices are not meritorious acts to justify us before God. They should never be done in a way that draws attention to oneself. Those who do are described by our Lord as hypocrites. They are like actors who only seek the applause of men.
In our reading of the Old Testament (Jonah 3: 1-10), Martin Luther commented: “Notice that the people of Nineveh do some things that God does not command them. But Jonah relates them. For example, they fast and wear sackcloth. What does fasting matter to God and that they wear sackcloth? God wants the heart; He wants to see the whole life of a person transformed. Likewise, God did not require these things of them through Jonah; all He asked was that they stop their wickedness.” However, every level of Ninevite society responded to God's Word with visible signs of repentance. Their quick response was in contrast to the often hard hearts of the Israelite people. And God showed the Ninivites His mercy.
Also in our gospel (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21), our Lord does not command his disciples to stop doing acts of piety such as fasting, but to ensure that they are done for the glory of God. Fasting was a very common practice in ancient times, especially before going to the sacrament, although today it has fallen into disuse. However, Jesus fasted in the desert prior to His temptation by the devil, because a hungry stomach reminds us of our condition as mortal beings and that man does not live by read alone. Actions, fasting as well as prayer or almsgiving, that arouse the admiration of the people already have their reward and cannot justify us before the throne of Christ.
We fall into sin daily, then, so we are to confess our sins against God and against our neighbors, at least in the general confession of divine service. Before the pastor in private we can confess those sins that we know and feel in our hearts, especially those that do torment us. In public or private confession, let us receive the absolution of the pastor as from God himself.
By receiving the ashes, we recognize that God's judgment against our sin is right and just. But the ashes are also made in the sign of the cross, the instrument by which our Lord took upon Himself the punishment for our sin, in our place. Therefore, the ashes cross serves to remind us that we are sinners and that Christ died for us sinners.
I invite you, therefore, to confess your sins, imploring our heavenly Father for the strength to preserve in the faith, as his children.
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