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Eurasia Blog Wednesday Devotion: Rend Your Hearts

This week’s devotion is based on the Old Testament reading appointed for Ash Wednesday in the one year lectionary.

A Lutheran Church in Albrechtice, CZ. Photo by Benjamin Helge

A Lutheran Church in Albrechtice, CZ. Photo by Benjamin Helge

–By Elizabeth Ahlman

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13a ESV).

“Rend your hearts and not your garments.” What is Yahweh talking about here? What is it to rend our hearts? In Hebrew culture, when one was sad or in mourning, or when one wished to repent, the custom was to “rend” the garment, to rip it in two in a show of repentance and mourning. In Genesis 37:29, Reuben rips his garments when he returns to the pit where the brothers had thrown Joseph and finds that Joseph is gone. Jacob follows suit when his sons deceive him by telling him that Joseph is dead. This common gesture occurs quite often in the Old Testament. Yet, Yahweh here in Joel says that He wants something different. Instead of literally ripping garments in half, Yahweh wishes for us to rend our hearts.

It has a strange ring to it, and yet, as we look into the mirror of the law, we realize that our hearts are black and ugly, filled with every sin possible. We have not feared, loved and trusted in God above all things. We have not used the Lord’s name properly, rather we have sworn, lied, deceived and bandied it about carelessly. We have not kept the Sabbath; we have disobeyed, mocked, and scorned our parents; we have murdered our neighbor in our hearts with hateful words and thoughts; we have lusted after one who is not our spouse; we have lied to make ourselves look better; we have spoken falsely about our neighbor, gossiped, and mocked; we have coveted all that is our neighbor’s or all that the world tells us we must have. We have loved ourselves and the things of this world more than our neighbor; we have feared, loved, and trusted above all things in that which is not Yahweh. When the law comes down on us in this way, our hearts rend. They are torn and destroyed. They are exposed. The law ushers us into repentance. To rend our hearts is to repent, and repentance is the work of the Word of God.

We are not left here with our exposed, bloody, torn, ugly, sinful hearts. Rather, there is good news for: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, ESV). This is the verse that the ESV lists as a parallel to verse 13a, specifically next to the phrase “rend your hearts.” To rend the heart is to be brokenhearted, to be crushed in spirit. And the Lord is for the brokenhearted and the crushed in spirit. The Lord is for the sinner. In Jesus, who was broken and rendered to death for the sins of the whole world, Yahweh draws near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. In repentance we return to Yahweh, our God because we know that “he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13). He draws us to Himself and binds up our wounds, forgives our sins, mends our hearts.

This Ash Wednesday we: “Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God’” (Joel 2:15-17 ESV)?

And we give thanks for the one Who breaks us to mend us, Who brings us to repentance so that He can forgive us. We draw near in repentance and receive forgiveness. We proclaim to all that our God is HERE among us, where He has promised to be found in Word proclaimed, in Water poured out, in wine and bread. And He draws near to all the brokenhearted over and over again for the sake of His Son.

Let us Pray: Heavenly Father, use Your holy and perfect law to bring us to rend our hearts and bring us to repentance, so that we may then receive the consolation of the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

  • Did you miss last week’s devotion? You can catch it here.
  • Are you interested in serving the Church through a short-term mission team? Teams are still needed for summer English Bible Camps in Central Europe. Learn more.

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