Ash Wednesday 2018

February 14, 2018

Series:

It is not at all unusual for us to use our hands when we talk. In fact, in some cases, it’s almost comical and can certainly be distracting to watch a person talk who can’t help but gesture wildly with every sentence. But when used sparingly, a well-timed gesture in a conversation can be an aid to understanding what the speaker is trying to convey; it can add emphasis to an important point; it can bring the hearer into closer communication with the speaker. (As you’ve probably noticed over the years I’ve been here, I’m not very comfortable making gestures with my hands when I talk. My hands sort of flop around unless I’m trying to make a point, or unless the flow of the liturgy invites the pastor to gesture to the congregation.)

Throughout His ministry, our Lord’s hearers couldn’t help but remark, “He has done all things well.” And that would certainly be true of His ability to convey His message clearly and with great emphasis. So when our Lord says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” you can picture Jesus spreading wide His merciful arms to welcome the burdened sinner into His embrace. “Come to me,” He says, and when you hear that, you know that our Lord has a place set aside for you in His presence, a place where you will be welcomed with love and compassion and rest for the weary soul. He invites you to come to Him, and He has a purpose in that invitation: He wants you to lay your burdens upon Him.

As it is today, so it was during our Lord’s earthly ministry. People had stress and pressure in life: the stresses of family, of work, of heavy taxes and oppressive laws and cruel and ruthless authorities. And to top it all off, the religious leaders of the day—men who should have been speaking the comfort of God to a weary people—were laying burdens on the people, burdens that did not come from the Word of God but from the imaginations and machinations of the priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, and the other leaders of the community of faith. We experience those burdens ourselves from those who call themselves pastors and church leaders, but who are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. They tell you that the life of the Christian is a life without suffering. They tell you that, if you just believe enough, you will never get sick, will never be poor, will never experience any kind of hardship. They tell you that, if only you will just give them your money, you will be blessed.

It is in the midst of these false preachers and their greedy fear-mongering that our Lord stretches forth His hands. “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” He invites you to bring your burdens to Him—the weight of the cares of family life, the heavy load of work responsibilities, and burden of emotional and spiritual distress—and lay them in His outstretched arms. He invites you to hide in His embrace, where you will be sheltered and guarded from the teeth of the wolves who would pull you away from Him with their false piety and their false promises. He gives you a place free from fear, free from the false preachers, free from your guilt.

You know this is true, for He voluntarily stretched wide His arms—in fact, they were nailed wide open—on the cross. And He did it for you. In the midst of your fear, your doubt, your distress, He invites you with those outstretched arms to lay your sins upon Him. He invites you to trust Him for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with your heavenly Father. He invites you to call upon Him when Satan wants you to doubt the work your Savior has done for you. He invites you to return to the waters of your Baptism through the words of Holy Absolution, where He speaks through the mouth of His called servants to give you the peace only He can give you.

And this evening, He invites you to this table, where He welcomes you with open arms to the eternal wedding feast of His own body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. “Come to me,” He says. He’s here, fully present in this meal. “Come to me.” Come and partake of the body and blood of your Savior. Be refreshed from the burdens the world places upon you. And then, having received your rest, return to the world, strengthened to bear the easy yoke, the light burden of faith and service to the Lord. For He will bear that burden with you, as well. “Come to me,” He says, His pierced hands outstretched. Come and receive Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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