Now is the day of salvation – Ash Wednesday 2011

2 Corinthians 6:2 “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

When I was a boy this was a very popular text with the devout evangelicals who ran our Sunday School. Don’t put off making a decision for Christ; tomorrow might be too late, you might die in your sins and find yourself before the judgement seat without a prayer. Now is the day of salvation.

I suppose the threat of hell might have its place on Ash Wednesday but I don’t intend to pursue that line; instead I want to underline the importance of now, the present moment. It’s not a novel idea but sometimes commonplace ideas reflect important truths. Every day, every present moment, is a gracious gift to be received thankfully and put to good use. In one of Terry Pratchett’s books, the wet young priest is looking out at the sunrise in a rather exalted and pious mood and says, “I feel so blessed to see the sun”. And the old witch Granny Weatherwax says, “I always feel blessed to see the sun – you would too, at my age”. Every day a blessing and an opportunity. Lent isn’t so much forty days as one day, forty times over, one day to repent and start over again on the right path.

Now we arrive at our present out of our past; and we can’t change our past, and often we can’t erase the wrinkles of our experience. But the vital question concerns the present. Today do I love God? Today will I love my neighbour? How often one meets people who will talk about the religious enthusiasm of their young days – the Sunday School, the youth club, the Girls’ Brigade, the things they used to do – but what of now? In Revelation Jesus sends a message to the Church in Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4) The raptures of courting days, the intense romance of youth, fades perhaps with time and familiarity. That’s why one of the Lenten graces is perseverance. They used to give out a little book at Confirmation called “Keeping On“: so how are we “keeping on ” at loving God and our neighbour?

Sometimes when we look over our past it is not so much past fervours as past faults that spring to mind, memories of carelessness or deliberate rejection of the Christian path. They might be memories long past that still haunt us; or they may be failings of yesterday. Here is where the grace of the present moment shines strongly. As a hymn puts it, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” Every moment can be a gracious opportunity to come back to God, and to start out afresh, from this moment. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” “If today you would listen to his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Today and every today of Lent is a graced moment to be received with thanks and put to good use. “His mercies are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”

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