Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday- Day One

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
they delight to draw near to God.
Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Discussions of fasting abound in biblical texts. Here in this passage from Isaiah, the prophet makes the distinction between religious ritual and the call to action that God desires. Here, at the outset of Lent, we're invited to consider how we're going to approach God. If you're here reading this Lenten devotional, it may be because this will be your Lenten practice, to read, to think, to pray. The prophet Isaiah, addressing a people returned from exile, but still living under harsh conditions, implores them to worship and take up worshipful practices such as fasting for the right reasons: to lift up rather than to persecute the oppressed, to be a light to others, to be people who share rather than withhold help. According to the author of this portion of Isaiah, that's the definition of true worship and righteousness. It's hard to imagine mild mannered blog-reading Presbyterians relating easily to the accusations being flung at the original hearers of this text.
It's worthwhile to wonder, though, if, like us, those hearing Isaiah utter these charges believed that they were just being good believers because of their acts of fasting and piety. So, the question for us as we begin Lent is, how is God speaking to us through this passage?

Prayer: Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the Day...
This day-- a gift from you.
This day00like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant, halfway turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes--
we begin this day with the taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
of more war casualties, more violence, more cynicism;
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you--you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
(from Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Breuggemann,Abingdon Press 2008, p.27-28.)


  1. what a beautiful prayer

  2. It is beautiful prayer. I look forward to sharing more of Bruegemann's rich words.
    Thanks for commenting!