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Welcome back to our series on daily prayers and reading appointed for Lent. Today happens to be an Ember Day, which is one of the special days appointed three times per year to give thanks for the fruits of the earth, to pray and give thanks for pastors and other teachers of the Word, and to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Not many Christians observe them now, I imagine (I just found out about them a couple of years ago), but they seem like a worthy concept — and if something traditional is also useful, why not use it? For our purposes today, it means that there are two collects to examine and pray, instead of one:

Mercifully hear our prayers, we beseech Thee, O Lord: and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty against all things opposed to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

This is the one of the two that I prefer. It’s shorter & more general, and also more suited to use and meditation all day, I think. But the other one is pretty good too:

Look favorably, we beseech Thee, O Lord, upon the devotion of Thy people: that they, whose bodies are mortified by abstinence, may, by the fruit of Thy grace be refreshed in mind; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end. Amen.

This one has the characteristic Lenten emphasis we’ve seen, and though Protestant (not Lutheran) sensibilities may bristle at the talk of devotion linked to abstinence, really what this prayer is asking for is nothing other than what we pray when we ask that our time in worship be God-pleasing and fruitful for us. The emphasis still remains on God’s will and gracious working.

The Gospel for today is Matthew 12:38-50. This is a Gospel with three main thoughts: the sign of Jonah (fulfilled in Easter, the goal of Lent); the action of the unclean spirit which goes forth and then returns to take up residence when its former home is bare; and the incident where Jesus’ mother and brothers are defined as those who do the will of the Father. And what is that? – to believe in the One He has sent, His only Son, Christ our Lord. This Gospel issues a stern warning: don’t just start to repent! Don’t just make a beginning and then not finish! Let it be habitual, daily, lifelong, and then you will find blessing.

The other lessons reinforce this. Exodus 24:12-18 recounts how Moses went up on the mountain with God. It emphasises how approaching God is a serious thing — repentence dare not be undertaken halfheartedly, or even worse, with a spirit of deceiving God. Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked, and He is a consuming fire. But for those who approach Him in lowliness and yes, even fear and trembling, they find something far more precious: His revelation of Himself. His divine Law and Word are made clear for those who truly repent. Only they understand, because they act from faith, and faith is required to crack the Word and make it our own.

The Epistle comes from 1 Kings 19:3-8, and was most welcome on a day like today. Amid all the hustle and bustle of life, we may feel like Elijah did: “It is enough” — no use! I’m done! So he runs, and the angel refreshes him with food and drink. The Lord’s grace comes through in the providing of food and nourishment. In a season where much is made of abstinence and “giving up” certain things, the Lord gives good gifts to sustain His own — especially His blessed Word and most holy Sacrament. This is seen in the angel’s words: “The journey is too much for you” — in other words, yes, you are not strong enough on your own for this, to truly repent or to approach God. But He gives us more grace. Strengthened by the food and water, Elijah journeys 40 days and 40 nights — the same length of time as Lent — to the mountain of God, where he meets with God face to face. We do the same through Lent by repentence and faith in God’s only Son. A most salubrious, bracing, and encouraging set of readings, even though the dominant note of the Gospel is one of warning.

More tomorrow; enough for now. God bless you till then.