There is a great sense of urgency in the readings for Ash Wednesday. It is as if some great event is looming that could be awesome, but only if the warning is heeded. Pondering the last year, this may make us cringe, “Oh no! What else?!” But the great event that looms is far more significant and, if we are ready, it will be glorious. Consider this selection from the first reading (Joel 2:12-18):
“Even now,” says the LORD, “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”
Sound the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people! Assemble the elders; gather the children, even the infants at the breast.
Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep, And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people!”
And consider this passage from the second reading (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2):
We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.! Behold, now is the very acceptable time.
What is this awesome yet potentially catastrophic event about which we are warned? The Church supplies the answer as she distributes ashes:
Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
In other words, you’re going to die, and you don’t get to say when, where, or how. So, what are you doing to get ready to appear before the judgment seat of Christ? Mother Church is figuratively shaking us and saying, “Do you understand how significant this is and how serious you ought to be in preparing for it?”
Sadly, many people are not serious about their spiritual life nor are they preparing for death. They are not praying; they do not read Scripture; they are not receiving the sacraments; they do not attend Mass; they are not repenting of their sins. In fact, many celebrate and call “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin. They are majoring in all the minors, pursuing the ephemeral while neglecting the eternal.
Yes, a trumpet must be sounded; an urgent summons must go forth. It is time to repent and to get serious about the judgment day that awaits us all. Now is a time of grace and mercy, when God provides remedies for sin and graces for holiness. The time for these will end, however:
It is appointed to man to die once, and thereafter to face judgment (Heb 9:27).
So we aspire to please the Lord, whether we are here in this body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive his due for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Therefore, since we know what it means to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men (2 Cor 5:9-11).
Sound the trumpet in Zion! It’s time to get ready to meet the Lord before the door of this life closes. Mother Church cries out, “Now is the time. This is the place. Turn from your sins and return to the Lord!”
This song asks, “Where Shall I Be When the First Trumpet Sounds?”