Pandemic, civil unrest, job loss, what’s next? A plague of locus? Great news, there is a plague of locus- in the first lesson form Joel. The people have just gotten home from exile, the economy is in ruins, and the culture is fractured. What could possibly go wrong next? Joel Chapter 1 – A plague of locus descends upon the crops.
Joel’s remedy. Return to your worship life. Notice Joel calls for public assemblies and public worship. If you only read the Gospel tonight you might think Jesus was calling for only a private worship life but we know that Jesus was very much involved in the public life of the synagogue and temple. Instead, Jesus like the prophets before him is calling for a religion that is honest and heartfelt-not a religion of power, prestige or position.
I mourn the loss of our public worship life, but the plague will leave and we can return. In the meantime, Now is the acceptable time says Joel to commit yourself to the community of faith when the time comes. For Joel and Jesus, in our readings, there is a dedication to building community. Not religion for the sake of religion but one that is contemplative, open, public and supportive. The building of community- that is how we treat one another and take care of one another during locus swarms while returning from exile according to Joel. Practicing your religion with the plight of the poor and the hunger for God’s just always at the forefront according to Jesus in the Sermon on the mount.
Tonight we begin lent. A time dedicated to alms giving, study, self-denial, and charity. The scripture calls us to recommit ourselves to a religion that builds, challenges and advocates for the suffering.
We have rituals that we are not able to do. One of those is the imposition of ashes. Ashes remind us that we are mortal. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.
I don’t think we need to be reminded of the fragility of human life right now. We have all lived with the shadow of death pushing into our lives for a while now. But ashes also remind us of our common plight, the oneness of humanity, our common creation and our common Creator.
"Too often Lenten observance becomes an individual thing: what am I going to give up for Lent? How is my heart before God this Lenten season? But to restrict Lent to individual piety is to miss the words from the prophet Joel, that true repentance is something done together." Desert Scribblings, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17. Geoff McElroy.
Let our masks be our ritual tonight. An outward sign of our care and love for others even if it may be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Let us finish this spring with a commitment to stop the spread and to spread self-less-ness. And to be particularly mindful of those who are hurting so badly right now be that from grief, loss of work, depression or anxiety. This is the religion of a merciful God. This is the religion of the Locust fighters. This is the religion of the cross. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!