Reading: Joel 2:1-2 and 12-17
Verse 12: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
We turn today to the book of Joel. In our reading today he is encouraging the people of God to throw themselves on God’s mercy. In chapter 1 Joel laments over the invasion of locusts that recently came upon Israel and Judah. Then he calls the people to repent and to fast and to pray. Another swarm is on the horizon. This is what Joel announces in verses 1-2 of today’s passage. The prophet calls on them to “blow the trumpet… sound the alarm.” He warms, “It is close at hand.” And he defines “it” – “a large and mighty army comes, such as was never of old.” You’d think this warning would scare Israel and Judah into obedience to God. It won’t. Their hearts are very hard.
Turning to verses 12-17, Joel lays out what the peoples’ response should be. All is not lost. God is merciful. The prophet emphasizes this in verse 12: “Even now, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” He encourages them to “rend your heart” – to tear their hearts away from the hardness and away from the evils that have led God to bring an army against them. Joel calls on them to turn to God, to God who is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love.” This is a God who wants to relent, who wants nothing more than to be in a good and righteous relationship with the people of Israel and Judah. Joel calls them all to a “holy fast,” to a “sacred assembly.” Paired with this gathering, he implores the priests to cry out to God, to beg for God to spare them. To be spared, they must fast, pray, repent, and turn to God. Joel calls for an all-out and total effort.
This passage sets a great tone for Lent. During these 40 days we are called to rend our heart, to turn away from evil, to turn to God. We are called to fast and to pray and to repent. We are called to draw near to God’s grace and compassion, to God’s abundant love. May it be so in this holy season of Lent.
Prayer: Lord God, in humility I come, recognizing that I love a lot of the things of this world. Help me to rend my heart from these things that separate me from you. Torn from them, guide me deeper into your love and grace. Strengthen me for the journey ahead. Amen.