The Meaning of Repentance
As we move forward in our Lenten journey, ever closer to the Cross and the empty tomb which lays beyond, it is helpful to ask ourselves if we are actually moving in the right direction. That is, have we turned around toward that Cross. The very meaning of the word repentance literally means to turn around. In our context this means to turn toward God, or return to God.
I realize that this is a focus on the negative. It is a time to grapple with our shortcomings and to focus on improvement. It is a far cry from a “sunny-side up”, power of positive thinking attitude. As a general rule I think harping on the negative is not particularly healthy. I have been guilty (oops there I go again!) of doing this too much in my life. I’ll just go ahead and blame it on the nuns of my Catholic youth. That said, there is benefit of taking some time to review the ways we have all come up short and to look for ways to do better.
Improvement cannot come without first seeing where we failed. Lent offers us an ideal time to do just this. We need not become morose or existentially depressed by this process. This is all in response to the gifts that God has bestowed upon us and the forgiveness that He offers us through the faith in His Son that He has placed within us. We know how the story ends-with an eternal relationship with our Father in Heaven. This process is just our way of trying to do better as a way of gratitude for all this and to recommit to the Lord that has given us everything.
Some Possible Shortcomings
Our shortcomings are both personal and communal. Let’s start with the bigger picture and work to the personal. I have already pointed out how regarding the most important issue of today, war and peace, and particularly nuclear de-escalation the Christian community has gone damn near silent. This is most disturbing for the followers of the Prince of Peace. There can be no greater calling for the community of Christ than to work for peace. Remember, even if we have enemies, we are to love them, which at a minimum, means we do not slaughter them, much less threaten to incinerate the planet in order to “defeat” them.
On a personal level have we let the peace of Christ penetrate our hearts? Do we radiate this peace outward in all that we think, say and do? Do we practice peace? Are we actively seeking to defuse volatile situations, in our workplace? In our wider communities? Even in our churches? Like all things peace is not a thing we can simply say we believe in. We must put that belief into practice.
Then there is the issue of Christian charity. Are we truly charitable. In the aggregate it is estimated that if all Christians tithed the biblically suggested 10% that there would be an additional $165 billion available for charitable purposes. Imagine what we could do with those resources. I am not levelling any particular charge against specific individuals. I do not know anyone’s situation. If, for instance, tithing 10% means you cannot pay your rent, then clearly you are not called to do so. On the other hand, there are likely many who can give more than 10%, so the estimated increase may still be around $165 billion. The point is that we all know we can do better, and give more. If not outright money, then we can certainly give more of our time. For the record I am including myself in this evaluation.
Then there is the issue of personal charitableness. Are we charitable toward those different than us? Those from another country or ethnic background? Are we tolerant and charitable toward those from another denomination or faith tradition? Do we listen and respond thoughtfully when presented with differing ideas? Or do we immediately denigrate and disparage? Again I cannot answer for you, nor am I letting myself off the hook. The point of Lent is to ask hard questions, and look for ways to turn around.
Time for a Spiritual Colonoscopy
Yes, this is a gross image, but a helpful one, I think. Anyone who has ever undergone a colonoscopy will tell you the actual procedure is easy peasy. It is the preparation that is awful. That is what Lent is, prepping for a religious or spiritual colonoscopy. It is hard, unpleasant, and the whole time you just wish it were over. Yet, it is necessary to cleanse yourself in order to arrive at a better place. We have faith in the awesomeness of that better place. This is what we should cling to during the difficult process that is a worthwhile Lenten journey.
The less gross way I would frame this process is to consider the old saw that “if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”. Well how would we answer? That is the question I will leave you with at this point in our Lenten journey. I would offer Matthew 5: 14-16 as a guide. It is usually spoken during a baptismal ceremony. This is important to remember during this hard Lenten introspection. We are baptized children of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked by the Cross of Christ forever. We should let our “light so shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven”. That is we should deeply reflect on our response to the gifts of God’s grace upon grace that He has given us. Are we letting the world know that we are Christians by our love, as the song derived from the Last Supper text asks us. The honest answer to this will do much to focus our response to God’s grace and propel us to a better place this Lent and beyond.
Praise Be to God