RCL Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17, Psalm 103:8-14, II Corinthians 5:20b–6:10,
Saint Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21

I see no way around it. If we want to be reconciled to God and to creation, we must learn to practice self-regulation. Not one of us is capable of making right choices one-hundred percent of the time. And when we make a wrong choice, when we fail to regulate ourselves, in other words, we are left with God, who is our help, and we are left with the wreckage of our wrong choice in people we love and in people who have trusted us. The way forward in these circumstances is the regulation of repentance and accepting forgiveness.

This very Liturgy is the way forward. Two things about our service tonight are helpful going forward, and one of those two is absolutely necessary. The thing that is only helpful are the outward signs: the ashes, the kneeling, and the confessing. The actions of our bodies affect our inward dispositions, which brings me to the thing that is necessary.

We cannot move forward toward reconciliation with God and our neighbors; we cannot be forgiven for our wrong choices without true penitence. True penitence is our inward disposition of sorrow and regret for having made wrong choices and for having harmed our relationship with God and with those who love us. True penitence cannot be faked. The Gospel is repetitively clear that God is in secret and sees in secret, and he will reward us in secret. And so, we can and we do use the ashes, the kneeling, and the confessing, though not strictly necessary, to deepen our penitence.

As we shall hear in the absolution, [God] “pardons and absolves all those who truly repent, and with sincere hearts believe his holy Gospel.”[1]

Tonight and every day, we rely on God’s goodness, for “he himself knows whereof we are made; * he remembers that we are but dust.”[2]


[1] BCP, page 269.

[2] Psalm 103:14.