Thursday, February 15, 2018

The burden of them is intolerable

We do earnestly repent,
And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
The remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable.
-          The Book of Common Prayer, “The Confession of Sin,” Rite I

There have been times when I have thought the language of the prayer book to be overly harsh and difficult for modern ears to hear. To this end, I have sometimes avoided using such words so as not to “offend” those who might be within earshot. Over the years, I have come to love these words, because, rightly understood, they speak to me of the immeasurable love and mercy of God.
When I minimize the role that evil can play in my life (individually and collectively) I run the risk of thinking that I can do this “transformation thing” all on my own. Somehow, the burden of my misdoings becomes more tolerable, and I begin to pile them on – incrementally, until one day, they all catch up with me. When this happens, I can begin a downward trail toward depression and despair.
Only when I have realized (repeatedly) that I am powerless to save myself, that I need a savior that is outside of my own powers and strengths, that I can, in fact, begin the process of overcoming them. This is the moment when the words are no longer seemingly condemnatory but in fact point to the lovingkindness of God. When I am at my weakest do I see the strength of God manifest itself. Otherwise, I make the mistake that I am in control of my life and world in which I live.
My misdoings are genuinely burdensome when I refuse to acknowledge them. They become as the chains that bind the ghost of Marley in “A Christmas Carol.” While it may seem odd to bring a traditionally Christmas tale into a Lenten reflection, it seems less so to realize that the entire story is a story of redemption – and that is, after all, the point of Lent: to realize that I forge burdensome chains that I am destined to carry about through my life, unless, in recognizing them for what they are, I am freed of them through the power of God to forgive, to heal, and to make whole.

Therein is the irony: it is when I recognize what is burdensome that I can be relieved of the burden. This is the greatness of God’s lovingkindness. This is the great grace of Lent. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

The ritual associated with Ash Wednesday is simple and clear.  It reminds us that we, like everything else on this earth, will die.  Today we remind ourselves about the certain cycles of life and death – the beginning and the end.  We also remind ourselves who we are and from whom we come – God.
Today is a sort of reality check.  Today we begin a time of introspection - like holding up a mirror to ourselves to see what we look like - not in our bodies but in our souls.  We take the time and spend the energy we need to see what needs improvement in our life as disciples. It is a time that calls for utter honesty. As the fourth step in the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous  describes it: to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Once we have done that, we can begin the process of transformation. This is ultimately what happens to Jesus at Easter. While we marvel at the "rising from the dead" we can miss the more important dimension - that Jesus was changed, transformed, transfigured. He was different but the same. 
That is why Lent is a time to prepare us to celebrate Easter: so that we begin the process of transformation in the small, incremental ways we can handle in this our earthly existence. The total transformation we see in the Risen Lord will have to wait until our earthly journey is complete. But in the meantime, we can find our selves being healed, mended, changed by God's grace - if we simply admit to ourselves and to others what about us needs to change.
This Lent we are once more being called to follow Christ. But before we can follow Christ into glory, we need to follow him to Calvary - and there allow God to strip away from us any thing that can separate us from the life and love that God so freely gives.