Ash Wednesday, Year B
On Ash Wednesday we begin our forty-day journey toward Easter with a day of fasting and repentance. Marking our foreheads with dust, we acknowledge that we die and return to the earth. At the same time, the dust traces the life-giving cross indelibly marked on our foreheads at baptism. While we journey through Lent to return to God, we have already been reconciled to God through Christ. We humbly pray for God to make our hearts clean while we rejoice that “now is the day of salvation.” Returning to our baptismal call, we more intentionally bear the fruits of mercy and justice in the world.
First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Because of the coming day of the Lord, the prophet Joel calls the people to a community lament. The repentant community declares that God is gracious and asks God to spare the people lest the nations doubt God’s power to save.
1Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.
12Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord, your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
17Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’ ”
Psalm: Psalm 51:1-17
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. (Ps. 51:1)
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your | steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out | my offenses.
2Wash me through and through | from my wickedness,
and cleanse me | from my sin.
3For I know | my offenses,
and my sin is ev- | er before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil | in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right | in your judgment. R
5Indeed, I was born | steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my | mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth | deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom | deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I | shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be pur- | er than snow.
8Let me hear | joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken | may rejoice. R
9Hide your face | from my sins,
and blot out | all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean | heart, O God,
and renew a right spir- | it within me.
11Cast me not away | from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spir- | it from me.
12Restore to me the joy of | your salvation
and sustain me with your boun- | tiful Spirit. R
13Let me teach your ways | to offenders,
and sinners shall be re- | stored to you.
14Rescue me from bloodshed, O God of | my salvation,
and my tongue shall sing | of your righteousness.
15O Lord, o- | pen my lips,
and my mouth shall pro- | claim your praise.
16For you take no delight in sacrifice, or | I would give it.
You are not pleased | with burnt offering.
17The sacrifice of God is a | troubled spirit;
a troubled and broken heart, O God, you will | not despise. R
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10
The ministry of the gospel endures many challenges and hardships. Through this ministry, God’s reconciling activity in the death of Christ reaches into the depths of our lives to bring us into a right relationship with God. In this way, God accepts us into the reality of divine salvation.
20bWe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commends almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, but emphasizes that spiritual devotion must not be done for show.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Copyright © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #SAS006253.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Revised Common Lectionary, Copyright © 1992 Consultation on Common Texts, admin Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission.