We are now in the midst of the Lenten season. At this time of year we devote ourselves with special emphasis and intention to the theme of repentance and renewal. The entire life of the Christian is one of return to the Lord. We are a people, who despite our faith grounded in Baptism, yet fall into sin. Thus, we must daily return to the Lord. Jesus, who reminds us that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven. (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”) invites us to turn to Him and away from our sin. There is joy in heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15). From Ash Wednesday till the Vigil of Easter we lift up our voices in repentance, supported in this endeavor by the liturgy of the church and the communion of saints. And then, beyond Easter we repent on a daily basis.
In The Book of Common Prayer after the confession of sins and absolution, used at the Holy Eucharist, the priest recites the Comfortable Words. They are good to keep in mind during our Lenten journey. “Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11: 28; God who so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3: 16; The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance , that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I Timothy 1; 15; If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. I John 2: 1-2” (BCP, 2019, p.130) Immediately before these words, the priest announces the absolution, “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthern you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”(p. 130) Turning expresses in Hebrew the idea of repentance and forgiveness. In Isaiah 45: 22 God, the one and only God, calls on the nations to turn to Him and be saved. When speaking to the crowd at Solomon’s Portico in the Temple precincts, Peter says, ‘Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3: 19 ESV)
And so, the call in Lent, and in all of the Christian life, is to turn back from our sins to the Lord God. Repentance and forgiveness is the message we take to others who are not part of the Christian community. We need to remember a number of things when we witness to others. First, we must realize that some people do not think they need to repent. They most likely, though, understand that repentance and forgiveness are necessary in our relationship with others. There may be a few who refuse even to do this. Secondly, non-Christians must come to an understanding that repentance and forgiveness are necessary for their eternal welfare, that is, in order to be saved at the judgment. Thirdly, we must present the message in a way that another will understand and not resent our speaking about Christ to him. Success is more easily achieved in the context of a relationship and conversation. The relationship can be as acquaintance, friend, or family member. It is easier to do this when the other person is feeling the pressure of guilt and also has an inkling that he must settle with God through repentance. Lastly, the witness must show gentleness and respect. Conversions usually do not occur after an argument. We need to show genuine care for another person, not drive him away. If the other person becomes recalcitrant or abusive, we must, as Jesus recommends, shake the dust from our feet and go our way. (Matthew 10: 14) Other opportunities will arise. Remember, you are not keeping a scorecard. What underlies all of this is devotion to Christ on our part and commitment to spread His Word. We must keep this concern for others always in our prayers. It is good to know that the eagle, symbolizing the Word of God, will bear the Gospel to the world with or without us. Let us pray that it may be with us.
Michael G. Tavella
March 10, 2023