What in the world is an Ember Day? Without going into all the details, Ember Days are days throughout the Church Year in which fasting and prayer are particularly emphasized.
Sometimes also giving to the poor is emphasized. If you take these 3 together: fasting, praying, and giving alms, you have the three godly disciplines that Jesus teaches about in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. If you have undertaken a food fast, it is appropriate to take the money saved during your fast and give it to the poor. Or God may be calling you to fast from your addiction to money and give some of it to the poor this Lent.
The Ember Days are observed 3 days a week during 4 weeks so that there are 12 Ember Days throughout the year. You might profitably use these Ember Days not so much to create a new fast for yourself but simply as reminders to the life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to which God has called you. If the Ember Days do nothing but remind us 12 times a year of these holy obligations, then they are indeed very useful.
Ember Days have also traditionally been a time when clergy are ordained, so it is appropriate to remember to pray for those who are to be ordained (and for those who are already ordained.)
Reading Matthew 9:1-13 with a particular eye to this being an Ember Day, what does God have in store for us today? Not surprisingly, repentance.
Just in case you’ve missed the point that God is seeking your repentance, especially during this season of Lent, He makes it plain in this passage again.
It’s curious in this passage that Jesus doesn’t just say, as He sometimes says: “Your faith has made you well,” but says instead: “Your sins are forgiven you.” It’s interesting, of course, because in Jesus’ mind there is a connection between the paralysis of this man and his sins. From this, we might understand 3 related points that Jesus wishes us to hear today.
First, bodily sickness is caused by spiritual sickness. It’s possible that sometimes our bodily sickness is directly caused by our spiritual sickness. It could be that God is judging us or that, if we are His children, He is disciplining us so that we might come back to Him. It could be that the sickness in our soul has gotten into our hearts and minds and therefore makes the body sick. Modern medicine is becoming more and more aware of how spiritual and mental sicknesses may manifest themselves in bodily sicknesses.
It’s also important to realize that even if our bodily sicknesses aren’t always directly caused by our spiritual sickness, ultimately they are derived from sin. This is because as a result of sin, the world, including the world of the body, is fallen and decays as it was not created to.
The second point we might learn from Jesus’ pronunciation is that God cares about all of you: body and soul. Jesus could have gone around making a severe distinction between the body and the soul and proclaiming that people’s sins are forgiven without also healing their bodies. Instead, we find Him ministering to both body and soul. Sometimes, He heals the body and makes no direct mention of healing the soul; sometimes He ministers to the soul and doesn’t directly address the body. And sometimes He ministers to both, as in this passage and in the Feeding of the 5000.It’s interesting also to remember that the Greek word sozo means both “to heal” and “to save.”
The third thing we might learn from Jesus’ pronunciation to the paralyzed man is that sin is the real problem in our lives. This is clear from His confrontation with the scribes. In the next section, verses 9-13, Jesus continues to show that He is ultimately concerned with spiritual sickness. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick . . . . For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (verses 12-13.)
Today, you are the paralytic, and you are the tax collectors and sinners. In fact, we all are, for “none is righteous, no, not one.” You are the one who is paralyzed by your sins, which keep you from the life and health that God desires for you. You are the sinner who needs to repent from your sins.
Jesus, the Great Physician of the Body and Metaphysician of the Soul, has diagnosed your sickness: you have a terminal case of sin that will end in eternal death if untreated. But Jesus has also prescribed the remedy for your terminal illness: faith in Him demonstrated by repentance from your sins.
Today, on this Ember Day, turn again from your sins. Maybe you’ve already relaxed in the perpetual repentance we must show in this life. Maybe you’ve been fooled into thinking “Gee, I’ve already repented recently . . . that ought to last for a while.” But repentance is a daily need because our sins are daily sins. Every day and every moment we need to be turning from our addiction to self and sin and turning to God.
If you do, the prognosis is good – no – it’s G-r-reat!!, for Jesus Christ says to you: “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
Prayer: Almighty and most merciful Father; I have erred, and strayed from Your ways like a lost sheep. I have followed too much the desires of my own heart. I have offended against Your holy laws. I have left undone those things which I should have done; And I have done those things which I should not have done; And there is no health in me. But, O Lord, have mercy upon me, a miserable sinner. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those that are penitent; According to Your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake; That I may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Your holy Name. Amen.
Prayer for Those to be Admitted to Holy Orders
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who hast purchased to thyself an universal Church by the precious blood of thy dear Son; Mercifully look upon the same, and at this time so guide and govern the minds of thy servants the Bishops and Pastors of thy flock, that they may lay hands suddenly on no man, but faithfully and wisely make choice of fit persons, to serve in the sacred Ministry of thy Church. And to those which shall be ordained to any holy function, give thy grace and heavenly benediction; that both by their life and doctrine they may show forth thy glory, and set forward the salvation of all men; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Evaluate and renew the Lenten discipline you have undertaken.
Resolution: I resolve to set aside a special time today to confess my sins and seek forgiveness. I also resolve to turn from these sins in repentance. If there is one sin in particular that is plaguing me, I will spend more time on seeking how God desires to heal me from it and what He is prescribing that I should do.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson