The opening acclamation of the liturgy during Lent aptly describes the intent of the season. It is a time when we examine ourselves intently, especially through the discipline of self-denial, so that we may better appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s saving victory come Easter. But as the opening acclamation tells us, we do not examine ourselves as those who have no hope. We do not dwell pessimistically on our broken condition as if that is all that defines us. We are the redeemed of God! We know of his good will toward us in Jesus Christ! We know God as a reconciling Father, a humble Son, and an indwelling and sanctifying Spirit. We examine ourselves not because we fear the wrath of a righteously indignant God, but because we already know his grace and goodwill toward us. Joyous gratitude drives our examination, because we love him who first loved us so much that we fervently desire to look more like him with each passing day.
This is the spirit with which I invite you into a holy Lent. A spirit of joy even as we confront our own broken condition, of life even as we embrace our own mortality, of love even as we reflect on the gravity of our former estrangement from our God.
This trajectory will be evident for us during our liturgy in Lent. For this season, our liturgies will open with a penitential order. At very the beginning of the service we will hear Thomas Cranmer’s classical exhortation on the first Sunday in Lent and the Ten Commandments on the Sundays after. We will then go right into our confession, which we normally do immediately before Communion. But we will also hear at the very beginning of our service Christ’s words of absolution and his comforting words to us who he has redeemed. Only then we will proceed into the service of Word and Sacrament, having already been assured of Christ’s forgiveness and reconciling love.
All of this is meant to not only draw our attention to the penitential nature of the season of Lent, but also to the spirit of grace which ultimately surrounds it and defines it. As Fr. Alan told us in his sermon last week, Lent’s purpose is not to point us to itself, but to direct our gaze to Easter, and the innumerable benefits procured for us by the same.
So I invite you: enter into holy Lent with me with all the stern determination of a disciple of the Lamb who desires nothing but to look more like their merciful Savior. Enter holy Lent with the seriousness of one who hates sin and death, but with the joy of one who already knows of their defeat in Jesus. Enter holy Lent with both sobriety and gladness of heart.
PS: remember to set your clocks forward one hour Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time, so that you don’t show up late for church!