Lent 3 :: Sackcloth

Imperial-Sackcloth

Sackcloth

While many churches decorate their sanctuary in purple [a traditional color denoting royalty] during the season of Lent, others use a form of what is referred to as a Lenten Array. This consists of earth tones, unbleached linen or sackcloth, and bands of black and deep, blood red: colors and textures associated with the desert wilderness, the blackness of sin, and the blood of the cross. Originally a dark colored material made of goat or camel hair, sackcloth was literally that, sacks in which to keep grain. Because of its rough, uncomfortable texture, sackcloth came to be worn as a garment by people who were in mourning. Scripture reminds us of various times in which national calamity threatened the people of Israel, so the people would put on sackcloth and ashes and would fast, weep, and lament as signs of repentance for national sins. The famous story of Jonah includes the repentance of the people of Nineveh who “proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” [Jonah 3.5]

And so the toned-down hues of sackcloth remind us of our need for repentance; our call to turn away from “the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf” and to turn once again to the God who forgives, restores, and heals.

St. Luke’s Gospel this day has a couple of curious reports of incidents of “bad things happening to [otherwise] good people” which are not to be found in recorded history. His purpose is not to frighten his audience with predictions of the dire consequence of sin, but as a reminder of the need we have to be in a continual state of grace, ready for death which will come to us whether we like it or not.

Such a state of grace is offered to us over and over again by a Savior of second chances. Like the fig tree at the end of our Gospel lesson, when we fail to produce, Christ tends to us, nurtures us, and gives us yet another season to bear fruit worthy of repentance.

RCL Lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent

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