Saturday after Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2019
“Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures for ever.”
Since Ash Wednesday earlier this week, we’ve embarked upon a diocese-wide journey together to live more fully into our baptism. In our common meditation on the Penitential Litany of Ash Wednesday, we’ll take Saturdays to review our journey of the past week.
We began Lent with a few definitions and then started our journey through the Litany of Penitence with the beginning of the prayer:
Most holy and merciful Father: We confess to you and to one another and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
Ash Wednesday: The themes of Lent—mortality, penitence, eternal life, and baptism—while seemingly contradictory, express some of the rich textures of our lives throughout the year. The smudge of ashes calls us to consider how our baptism is a death to old ways and a birthing into life in the Spirit. This baptismal journey doesn’t end at the font, but continues throughout our individual lives and corporate life. Penitence, as a prayer form, has three parts that follow the baptismal motion of dying to sin in order to rise to life: confession of sins, a desire to be part of repairing the relationships damaged by sins, and an intention to live differently as a result of recognizing sin and its damaging ways. And while we focus on our mortality in the Ash Wednesday service, we do so in order to meditate on and live into God’s gracious gift of eternal life.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Penitence is often portrayed as a somber and sorrowful posture of the heart and soul, but if we keep the end in mind, it need not be so. Our baptismal covenant calls us to take sin seriously, but to keep God’s mercy and God’s mission always in view. Sin disrupts relationships, causes disharmony, and reduces the liberty that we have in and through Christ.
Our liturgy calls us to confess our personal, corporate, and societal sins, including things that are done on our behalf without our permission or without our knowledge. But penitence is more than mere confession and striving to change. Penitence is grounded in trusting that God will meet us in our penitence with mercy and grace. Each time that God meets our confession and desire to change our lives in mercy, we learn more about God’s love for us and for the world. The baptismal life is a life of penitence, but we repent with joy, knowing that God loves us and desires honest conversations with us about how we live out our baptism.
Friday after Ash Wednesday: Because sin is both personal and communal, the Litany of Penitence calls us to confess our sins to God, to one another, and to the whole communion of saints living and dead. This hard work of the baptismal life is not done in our own strength, but through the gift of penitence that works redemption into our whole being: our minds, our hearts, and our wills. The gift of penitence is one of the means by which God frees us from sin, evil, and death and redeems us together as a community. This gift is not for ourselves, but so that we can enter into God’s work of reconciliation of all things.
Where do you see or feel disharmony in your life, in your worshiping community, or in the diocese?
What might reconciliation and redemption look like in these situations?
What could the three movements of penitence look like for these situations?
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
--Collect for Ash Wednesday, BCP