Here I go again, way out of season, just filling another gap in my hymn tour of the church year! Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter (not counting Sundays, because they're all Easter), is the beginning of the Lenten season, which focuses on repentance and a spirit-over-flesh sort of discipline. The Epistle, which in this case would better be called the First Lesson, is Joel 2:12-19. It's actually not the only time this Old Testament prophet's slender, three-chapter book pulls Epistle duty in the historic lectionary; the other is Pentecost, with a selection from the end of the same chapter. The Gospel (for Ash Wednesday, mind you) is Matthew 6:16-21. The tune is UNCTION, which I wrote in 2003 for a hymn by N.F.S. Grundtvig.
Rend your heart and not your clothes!
Solemnly come forth, assemble
Your transgression to expose!
Turn with all your heart, repenting
That the Lord might hear, relenting
From His just and wrathful oaths!
For your Lord is kind and gracious,
Slow to wrath, in mercy swift;
Prayer with Him is efficacious,
Turning curse to precious gift.
Gather young and old together,
Brides and husbands, seeking whether
He our bill of shame might lift!
Ministers and congregations,
Gather to be purified,
Lest our woes incite the nations
To blaspheme our Lord who died!
God will answer and take pity,
Saying, “O beloved city!
What boon will I not provide?”
Fast indeed, lest fleeting pleasure
Rule your heart with charms that cloy;
Rather seek eternal treasure
None can pilfer or destroy!
Fast to tame your vicious members
Till your frame its Head remembers:
Christ your fullness, Christ your joy!
Fast in freedom; fast in spirit,
Not as to be seen by men,
Nor by fasting to gain merit
Lest by pride you sin again!
Rather fast with Him whose dying,
All God’s justice satisfying,
Made you righteous there and then!
Fast in faith, yet feast on pardon
In Christ’s name these forty days,
Who from wilderness to garden
Walked by self-denying ways;
Lest His agony be cheapened,
Rather be your hunger deepened
For the love His cross displays!