Lent is a season that calls for action, real repentance and authentic forgiveness. I remember well the old ritual we used to use for Holy Communion. It was an emotional bummer in many ways. I’m not saying what we have today is glee and gladness but at least it’s Eucharistic and more focused on thanksgiving for God’s grace than us “bewailing our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed in thought, word, and deed.” At least it went something like that. I remember leaving Holy Communion services feeling somewhat worse about my spiritual state than I did beforehand. Was that such a bad thing? It did make me straighten up and ponder the depths of my being.
Although I like the upbeat God-focused tenor of the current Communion service, I do need more time in repentance than a brief prayer and a few seconds of silent confession. If by nature Holy Communion is a sacrament that mysteriously conveys Christ’s Real Presence then it should be taken more seriously than a “Jesus Snack,” which I heard one children’s sermon presenter call it. I need to recapture the depth of repentance that is part and parcel of true communing with God. I also need to own my real sorrow over the sins that I’ve committed.
To be honest, many of my sins are directly against God but most reach God through the conduit of my actions against people. Haven’t you felt belittled, slighted, or otherwise demeaned by someone? Often when we have been treated in such a way, we get even. We curse back or at the very least feel resentment. We may even feel some self-righteous smugness that we have been unfairly assailed and claim a higher ground that is more sham humility than the real reconciliation. I cannot relish any thought of being better than the attacker if I don’t admit my own sins. Nobody’s perfect, yet the Scripture (Matthew 5:48) says “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In its context this Scripture is all about God being perfect in loving everyone, both good and bad.
That’s a tall order when someone has wronged us. To quote from my devotional this morning from The One Year at His Feet by Chris Tiegreen, “No, Jesus gives no attention to whether our feelings are legitimate (when we’re upset with someone). That is not the point. Our feelings may be entirely accurate. What Jesus calls for, instead, is absolutely counterintuitive to the human experience: a rejection of our resentments and bitterness, no matter how appropriate they are. We are to love even when love grates against our souls. While we hope for the downfall of our enemies, Jesus actually expects us to pray for blessings to rain down upon them.” Wow!
The action that Lent calls us to do is a call to love when we’ve been wronged and especially when the person never ever says they’re sorry or asks for forgiveness. It can be called “unilateral forgiveness.” Unilateral literally means “one-sided.” Jesus modeled a one-sided unilateral forgiveness. For instance there’s no evidence in the Gospels that anyone ever asked Jesus to forgive them but Jesus did it anyway! The handicapped guy whose buddies lowered him through the roof didn’t ask for forgiveness but Jesus said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The sinful woman with the alabaster jar of ointment didn’t ask for forgiveness, but Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven.” On the cross, with no pleas from the soldiers and crowd for forgiveness, Jesus really modeled unilateral forgiveness when he said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
A valid call to action this Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent is to model Christ’s love and forgiveness. Unilateral forgiveness sets prisoners free and more often than not the prisoners are you and me. May we repent and be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – in love!