Just a few days ago on Ash Wednesday we heard from the prophet Joel. The prophet saw the people facing a day of thick darkness. Things were just awful: warfare, famine, hunger, frustration, danger, political intrigue, a lack of leadership. The world, says the prophet, is a scary place. Things appeared to be hopeless.
Hopelessness is no less a stranger today than it was back in Joel’s day. Days of darkness and gloom frequently dominate local, national and international news, and can intrude into our personal lives when we least expect it. Whether it is in our personal lives, the life of the church or the life of our nation, a sense of the near impossibility of helping ourselves often can lead to a kind of paralysis, or at the very least feelings of deep self-doubt.
The ashes of Ash Wednesday, however, are meant to remind us that we come from God, we will return to God, and that God is all around. Most notably, the prophet Joel asks the question, “Who knows?”
Who knows if God will not turn and repent, enter the sanctuary and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Who knows?
Imagine, God leaving the offering for God’s self so that God will be moved to save us from our sins, our gloom and the impinging darkness that seems to surround us on all sides.
There it is. Appearing as if from nowhere and nothing, encased in glass and gold, a cereal offering – a disc of wheat and water, a bit of bread, nothing less than the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ – stands before us as a reminder that what the prophet imagined has truly come to pass.
Like manna in the wilderness, with this cereal offering, once offered, self-offered, God seeks to sustain us with bread that will satisfy our deepest hunger. It is like when Moses told the people to fill a jar with manna so that when they were feeling hopeless, feeling as if the darkness would never draw back, they were to look at the jar and know that God is in the manna – God is in the bread – God is where we are if we place ourselves before God and open our selves to his grace and his mercy.
We call our manna in this jar our Host. It is the paradox of faith that in this sanctuary God in Christ is both our guest and our Host. As Host he invites us to allow God to feed us with bread that truly will satisfy all of our hunger.
As the poet and priest George Herbert gave voice to this moment:
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
- Love III – George Herbert
So we come to sit and eat. Gazing on our Host we are to take in the full flavor and taste of Amazing Grace. As we sit and pray with our Host, we see the radiant holiness of his presence in our sanctuary. His radiant name is enough to drive back a little bit of our darkness and draw us a little closer to the light. His light shines continually to drive away all darkness, and to set our hearts on fire – on fire with the radiance of his Holy Name.
May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find this fire ever burning – he who gives his light to all creation and every creature under heaven, he who lives and reigns for ever and ever.