”a right beginning of repentance”

+…”a right beginning of repentance”…+

Episcopalians are not big on sin. Mind you, I don’t mean we aren’t good at it. To the contrary. If you want to be reminded what is meant by humanity’s “sins” and “wretchedness,” often you just don’t have to look further than any parish. Still, we don’t put sin at the center of the way we pray, or at the center of what we believe. That place is reserved for God’s love, mercy and compassion, and our prayer to be formed in God’s image. Faith for us means learning to trust completely that deep down, at the heart of things, God’s way of loving us is unconquerable. That’s at the center of Christian hope.

Then comes along Ash Wednesday (this week) and the beginning of Lent—a season of repentance. And we suddenly become aware just how unprepared we feel to focus for 40 days on repentance, due to the fact that we are less than prepared to say what it is that we believe about sin itself—that which we are to repent for and turn away from.

Our liturgy each Sunday, however, has prepared us for Lent better than we may initially realize. For in the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People and the Confession of Sin, we sketch out the outlines of a theology of sin-and-repentance, in the Anglican style.

On Ash Wednesday, and through the season of Lent, we bring to the center of our attention in worship what has been there all along. The celebrant has stated it for us in the prayer over the ashes that marked us visibly with the cross of Christ, which of course has marked us invisibly since our baptism:

“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence…”

In the observance of a holy Lent, we are not asked to repent of being human, to turn against our very mortality. We are, rather, encouraged to take our entire, wonderful, sometimes-hard-headed, sometimes-cold-hearted, mortal existence and turn it back onto the path marked by love, mercy, compassion.

May we during Lent prayerfully “make a right beginning of repentance” for our sins, committed both individually and as members of the communities to which we belong, saying:

“Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent…”

And may our praying shape our believing in God’s love.      NLJ+

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