After last week’s huge dump of snow, most of us around here have experienced something driving around. As the temperatures have risen and the sun has become more potent, the snow has begun melting on area roads and highways. As a result, our cars get covered with mud and mag-chloride and we end up using gallons of wiper blade fluid. Even people from out of state appear local as license plates become unreadable. I must say, when my truck is dirty, it feels great to get it all washed off and cleaned.
This week we begin the season of Lent. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter. It is six weeks or 40 days long, excluding Sundays. Sundays are not counted as part of Lent because regardless of the season, we remember Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday. The focal point of Lent is the cross and crucifixion of Jesus. Lent has a long history and tradition in a variety of Christian denominations and I encourage you to do some exploring on the Web.
Repentance is an important concept in our faith journey. Repentance means to turn around, to turn back, to reorient our lives to God. Repentance ultimately is not about feeling badly, it is about getting back into a relationship with God that brings us joy, clarity, purpose, love, forgiveness, direction, and the knowledge we are forgiven. While repentance is a Lenten theme, clearly turning back to God is something God invites us to do daily.
In my own life, when I fall short, when I say or do something I wish I had not, or when I don’t say or do something I wish I had, I usually don’t feel great. I relate to what Paul said one day. He writes in his letter to the Romans, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” In other words, Paul recognizes he is an imperfect human being, like the rest of us.
Our imperfection in many ways is a gift. Imperfection creates room for humility, the recognition we need something bigger and stronger than ourselves, in other words God, that we as human beings all live in the same boat of imperfection, and it creates space for forgiveness, empathy, and love. Imperfection also creates the necessary room to grow and learn and strive to be more Christlike day in and day out.
Our faith tells us that the cross means we are living in a state of being forgiven. This prompts two questions. How will we choose to live in response to being forgiven and what do we do when we do something out of alignment with God’s love and forgiveness? The later question is all about repentance.
When we act in ways that bring us shame, guilt, remorse, or simply a feeling we need to do better, turning to God and asking for God’s forgiveness and to accept God’s forgiveness is cleansing. I know when I am brutally honest with God about a shortcoming and when I ask for and acknowledge God’s forgiveness, I feel like a car covered with mud going through a car wash. I feel better.
A caveat. In no way am I suggesting that we are dirty. We are not dirty as we are wonderfully made in the image of God. I am simply pointing out that repentance and being honest with God makes me feel better, cleansed if you will. Repentance helps me get back on the right course, makes me more understanding of the mistakes others make, and gets me back where I want to be, which is who God made me to be.
In the Epsicopal tradition of which I am a part, in our Book of Common Prayer is a beautiful prayer that is all about repentance. If you wish, I invite you to use it during this six week season. But regardless, know that God invites each of us to repent by turning back to God and to embrace not only God’s forgiveness but boundless love for all people.
We are so blessed that you are part of the Chapel family. Remember we love you and most importantly, so does God no matter what. Here is the prayer. While the prayer is used in worship, hence the word “we” is used, feel free to use “I”.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer
Finally, remember what is most important is that each of us pours our heart out to God with vigor, passion, and honesty whether through a structured prayer or by simply using our own words that reflect the deepest part of ourselves.