Translations for Ash Wednesday

As we come down from the mountain of Transfiguration, we find ourselves moving quickly into Ash Wednesday, carrying our burdens of deep confusion with what we've seen into a season of reflective afterthought (metanoia) and baptismal grace. And that season begins with apocalypse, much as it did on Sunday. But even though this revelation looks a lot more like the end of someone's world, it promises the beginning of a new one for the people of God.

Joel 2:1-17
The lectionary never includes the middle of this -- and I wonder to what extent the RCL is simply squeamish -- but not grasping the context of divine pitched battle and the oracular envoy sent to demand terms tends to void the response of its contextual value.
The shofar has sounded in Zion, and there is shouting upon the holy hill! All the inhabitants of the land are trembling, because the day of YHVH has come, and a day of obscuring and concealing darkness is near. A day of thundering and blanketing clouds is spread like twilight upon the hills; a vast and mighty company such as there has not ever been, nor shall there be after it for generations upon generations. Before it, a consuming fire; after it, a burning flame. The land is like the garden of Eden before it, but after it a desolate wilderness, and there is no escape. Their appearance is that of horses, and just like steeds they run. Like the sound of chariots leaping the tops of the hills, like the sound of a flame of fire consuming straw, so is this mighty company arrayed for battle. The peoples writhe before them; their assembled visages shine. As mighty ones they run; as soldiers they mount the wall. Each proceeds in his path, and they do not exchange their ways. No one crowds his brother; each mighty one proceeds along his road. They attack in among the spears and are not cut off. They rush into the city, they run within the walls, they climb upon the houses and enter windows like a thief. Before them the land trembles and the sky ripples. The sun and moon are dark and the stars withdraw their light.

YHVH sends his voice before his army, for their camp is exceedingly vast, and they are mighty in doing his word. For the day of YHVH is great and exceedingly terrible -- who can stand it? And the oracle of YHVH comes: "Even now, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping and lamentation; rend your heart and not your clothes."

Return to YHVH your god, for he is gracious and merciful, patient in anger and vastly kind. He feels grief about evil. Who can tell when he will turn and grieve, and leave behind a blessing, a comfort and libation of YHVH your god? Sound the shofar in Zion, consecrate a fast, call the assembly, gather the people, consecrate the congregation, assemble the aged, gather the children and infants at the breast. Let the groom depart his room, and the bride her tent. Between the vestibule and the altar, let the priests and attendants of YHVH lament, saying, "Have pity on your people, YHVH, and do not exchange your inheritance for shame, for the dominion of the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their god?'"
... and God relents!

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
On behalf of Christ, therefore, we present this as the invitation of God through us: We desire, on behalf of Christ, that you be reconciled by God, who on our behalf made sin what did not know sin, so that by him we should become the justice of God. And being your fellow workers, we also invite you not to have received this gift from God for nothing. For God says, "I heard you at the acceptable time, and I rescued you on the day of rescue." Behold: it is now a most acceptable time, and see: it is now the day of rescue; we are giving to no one even a single offense, so that we should not disgrace our service.

Rather, in everything we have constituted ourselves as servants of God, in great patience, suffering oppressions, duress, restrictions, beatings, imprisonments, dispossessions, labors, watches, and fasts; with cleanliness, knowledge, forbearance, and kindness by the Holy Spirit; with unfeigned love, an honest message, and the power of God, strictly by means of the just tools of our right and left hands; through both dignity and reproach, defamation and praise -- called both impostors and honest men, unknown and all too well-known, "dead men walking" (but look: we live!), regularly disciplined but never killed, grieving but always cheerful, poor but enriching many, having nothing but holding all things securely.

Matthew 6:1-21
... of which we also usually skip the middle, that being the Lord's Prayer and a bit of an ultimatum about forgiveness. But how apropos this whole piece of the Sermon on the Mount is for Lent -- especially in connection with the liturgical action of Joel!
Hold tightly to your justice. Do not act in the sight of the people, in order to be seen by them. Should you do so, you have no wage from your Father in the heavens.

So whenever you engage in charity, do not announce it in advance, like the play-actors do in the assemblies and in the streets, in the fashion esteemed by the people -- truly I tell you, their wage has been paid in full. So when you engage in charity, don't let your left hand know what your right hand does, in such a way that your charity shall be hidden, and your Father who sees the hidden deed will reward you.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the play-actors that love to stand praying in the assemblies and on the street-corners, so as to be seen by the people -- truly I tell you, their wage has been paid in full. So whenever you pray, after you have gone into your closet and shut the door, pray to your hidden Father, and your Father who sees the hidden deed will reward you.

And while praying, do not prattle on like the pagans, thinking that their loquaciousness will gain them audience. Don't assimilate to them, because your Father already knows what you have need of before you ask for it. Therefore pray this way:
Our heavenly Father, may your name be sanctified, your kingdom come, and what you desire happen -- just as in heaven -- upon the earth. Give us the bread of our subsistence this day. Release from us our failed obligations as we also release the obligations of those who have failed us. Do not bring us to trial, but rather rescue us from wickedness.
For if you forgive people their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you -- but if you do not forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive your offenses.

Whenever you fast, do not become sullen like the play-actors, for they disfigure their faces so as to be seen fasting by the people -- truly I tell you, their wage has been paid in full. So when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so as not to be seen fasting by the people, but rather by your hidden Father; and your Father who sees the hidden deed will reward you.

Do not store up stores for yourselves upon the earth, where moth and decay damage them, and where thieves break in and steal them. Store up for yourselves stores in heaven, where neither moth nor decay damage them, and neither do thieves break in and steal them. For where your storage is, your heart will also be.

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