a priest's musings on the journey

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sermonette: True Repentance

Ash Wednesday
2007- St Thomas Reidsville, NC

Tonight we begin a spiritual journey that the Church has taken since ancient times; a Lenten pilgrimage in which we re-member and make present in our lives the life, sufferings, and sacrifices our Lord Jesus made for all of us. Since the time of Gregory the Great, the Church has participated in this 40 day penitential fast, in remembrance of Our Lord’s 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert. It’s a season of simplicity and austerity- even our liturgy reflects this with the removal of words and songs of praise, for example. During these days we make small sacrifices in our daily lives and attempt to incorporate newer practices and behaviors rooted in love and justice in our daily living. Some of us give up chocolate, or alcohol, or meat and we take on new behaviors like volunteering in a soup kitchen, spending more time in prayer and bible study, or visiting the sick. We spend time reflecting on our personal lives and behaviors to see in which ways we being faithful- or not being faithful- to our baptismal covenant and to our call as Christ’s disciples to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.

We begin this 40 day season of penitence by acknowledging what sin has done to us as human beings; we kneel and receive ashes on our foreheads as we hear the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” For a moment, each of us is forced to contemplate our mortality- to come face to face with the final result of our rebellion against God. In the context of this contemplation on our mortality, the Church calls us to repentance. This act of repentance is not a self-loathing, self-deprecating act by which we punish ourselves for sinning by taking on penitential sacrifices throughout Lent. Where is Grace in that? Repentance, in its truest biblical and theological sense simply means to turn around or to turn away. For us, repentance is like making a u-turn. We turn away from the path that leads to death, we reject the consequences of sin and evil that we come to face with at the imposition of ashes, and we begin walking on the path that leads to the life that God in Christ offers us.

That is why, as we submit to receiving the ashes as a public sign of our repentance, we are marked with the sign of the cross- well more precisely, the priest traces on our foreheads the mark of the cross that is already there- that sign of the cross with which we were sealed by the Holy Spirit at our baptisms and marked as Christ’s own forever. So, as we reflect upon our mortality, we also see the hope of abundant and true life in God, through the triumph of the cross of Christ. We see the death that is trying to claim us because of sin, but we also see that we have already been claimed by God as God’s own forever, and we remember that because we belong to God, we are loved by an everlasting compassion, and embraced by an eternal mercy… and that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from the love of God.

It is this awareness that we belong to God and are unconditionally and completely loved by Him, that empowers us to reorient our lives to allow that spark of Christ within us to radiate God’s love into the dark, cold world around us. Since we belong to God and are in fact a part of Christ, our behaviors begin to imitate Christ’s, as we progress along the road of repentance. More and more we turn away from those behaviors which diminish love in others- leading to death- and we incorporate those behaviors which love and affirm the dignity and worth of others- leading to abundant life.

During Lent, we give alms, say more prayers, abstain from certain foods and pleasures so that we can free ourselves from the distractions of the world long enough to be attentive- at least for these days- to the progress we are making in our pilgrimage to live the life of Christ. We more intentionally practice being Christ for others during Lent, so that when Easter comes, we can celebrate the mystery of our incorporation into the resurrected life of Christ and more fully participate in God’s desire to reverse the consequences of sin and offer life to all. We contemplate death with ashes and crosses this evening, so that we can leave this place empowered to produce works in our lives that are life-giving, merciful, and just. This is not to obtain favor from God or to find salvation. Rather, it is to joyfully and lovingly be present in the world as the life-giving body of Christ- as ambassadors of Christ and of God’s kingdom in the world. We abstain from food and pleasures, not merely to say we are sorry for our sins, although that is part of why we make penance- but we abstain to feel part of what Christ suffered for us and experience a bit of how Christ continues to suffer in the world today. We fast to make ourselves aware that in some places Christ is hungry, cold, naked, and sick- and to remind ourselves that the true fast that God accepts is to love mercy and to do justice.

As ambassadors of Christ, we recommit our lives to bearing witness the values of God’s kingdom. During Lent we examine our lives and our behaviors in order to allow the Holy Spirit to show us how to more fully represent the God of love and mercy in the world in which we live. Ultimately, this season is a fast of all of those things which turn us away from loving God and loving others- its is a fast which is meant to open our eyes to see those things which are blinding us from seeing Christ around us. It is a fast meant to prepare us to recommit to the values of God’s Kingdom as we renew the vows of our baptismal covenant on Easter Day.

I call you to a holy Lent. May the Spirit of love, mercy, and life be with you during these days, guiding you down the path of true repentance, and leading you to the source of mercy and justice, the God of grace in whom we all have been reconciled to eternal life in Jesus Christ.

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:: posted by Padre Rob+, 6:14 PM


As usual, you have expressed with words the feelings we should have when entering this season.

May we reflect of what should we do in order to be more Christ-like during this season.

Blogger Luiz Coelho, at 8:26 PM  

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