ASH WEDNESDAY 2009
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love.
The Psalmist cries out “Return!”
And I say, “Have I ever left?”
Here I am.
And the Psalmist, the prophet, the poet, the singer looks with serious eyes:
“Return”, he says, “Return.”
And I say check your map, your list, your GPS.
Here I am and I have not strayed.
Here I am singing, praising, praying.
Here I am feasting in sacramental splendor.
Here I am, the place to which you have called me.
The place I know. Your place, your house, your sanctuary. Here I am.
The place where you have promised to be.
At the appointed hour, the appointed day, in the moment, in worship among those who are your people.
Here I am.
“Return,” he says, “Return! Gracious is your Lord and merciful are his ways. Return.
And I turn, ever slightly turn, to look behind at the other he must surely be addressing.
Let my eyes wander peripheral. Listen for the sure sign, the cough, the foot upon the floor, the breath, the heart beat. Surely, someone else. But no.
For me, there is only me.
And to you, only you.
Return, I think. Where have I been?
Perhaps you wonder, too.
Am we lost? Can one be lost and yet know exactly where they are?
We are here, yet the call cries out “Return!”
“Return,” the Psalmist cries, “Return!”
Could he really be crying out to me, to you?
Isn’t the voice for someone else, someone lost, truly lost, someone in darkness.
Someone who has let the candle burn out or forgot to bring one, unprepared, and stumbles this way and that way.
Yet the voice is in our reading, the appointed reading for this place, this date, this time.
It is for us. To read, to hear. To take into our heart’s deep places. Soul places. Deep within us:
Return to the LORD, your God,for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
“I have returned,” I cry, you cry,
Last week, last month, last year, a decade ,a lifetime, I have returned!
Or I never left. Check that please.
Perhaps we have always been where we should be, doing what we should do.
We say back to God:
My whole life I have been for you, haven’t I?
And the ashes, this day, this whole thing, am I that far from you God that I must come back from the place where I am, to the place where you most certainly are? Aren’t they in fact the same?
I do not get this day at all.
“What about Jim,” a voice speaks.
Jim in a hospital new cells growing in marrow in his bones.
Jim in isolation, rubber gloves on all who enter. Masks, too, I imagine. No kissing his wife, no touching, no hugs, fearing germs too strong against a body depleted of any sure defense.
What about Jim.
His world a small room, being able to pee on his own a victory. Tubes, wires, monitors, test, test, test.
Jim prays fervently, faith strong even on weak days, wrapped in a prayer shawl to ward against the cold. Jim is not here, but in faith is strong with God, clings to God, trusts God completely. Jim returned long ago and he is not here, but in a cancer hospital a thousand miles away.
What about Joe and Allie too smart for faith, untrusting, cynical. Knew the church, forget the church, returned to church and left again: Rinse, Dry , repeat. Unable to cling to God they cling to…nothing. Perhaps themselves. I’m not sure.
To what or whom does your heart cling?
To return to God may be in part about walking through a door, as bold as that is, as brave as that can be.
But not wholly. Not completely. No.
To return to God may be in part about where we are and who we are with: sacred places and relationships.
But to capture the whole, to return to God is to cling to God. Complete trust. Radical trust.
To return to God is to place God in the center of our being and allow God to fill us until there is no room for that which is not of God. No room for fear.
Taking our burdens, casting our burdens, relinquishing our burdens – all unto God.
Trusting God that much.
Clinging to God that much.
And allowing God to fill us completely.
A voice cries ”Return” and it is correct. It speaks to me, to you. To all.
To return to God, to cling to God, to cling with our whole hearts would that not transform our relationship with God and one another?
To trust God more means to trust something else less than God less.
And there is much wisdom in that.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.