Lenten Reconciliation Service

Today’s readings: Colossians 1:3-14 | John 14:1-29

In Jesus Christ, we have absolutely everything that we need for the forgiveness of sins, except one thing. In Jesus Christ, we have our God who became man (and we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation today which marks the beginning of the Son in his human nature). We have in Christ the Saving Sacrifice, his life poured out on us to take away the penalty of our sins and nullify the sting of our death. Not only that, but Jesus Christ strengthens us with the gift of his Holy Spirit, who enlivens in us the desire to be close to our God and to put our sins behind us. That Holy Spirit gives us the grace not just to know and confess our sins, but also the grace to avoid the sin ahead of us. In Christ, the way to forgiveness is open. We have all we need – except one thing.

That one thing that’s missing is our own “YES.” Today we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation when Mary said yes to the angel: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” That fiat was her act of faith that made possible our redemption from sin and death. We too are called to make a fiat today – an act of faith that says, “YES, God, I trust you to forgive my sins. YES, God, I will open myself to your reconciliation and peace. YES, God, I will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance away from my sinfulness and back to you.” And that’s why we’re here tonight. To say that “YES” so that all that the Father wants for us can happen in us. We are here to accept that wonderful grace, purchased at an incredible price, and poured out lavishly on us. All we have to do is say “YES” to it.

This Lent we have been striving to develop, with God’s help, new habits of the soul, new habits of faith, hope and love. The habit we are called to work on tonight is the habit of repentance. Because once we repent of our sins, turn away from them, and confess them, we can then accept God’s grace and mercy, and become a new people, marked by faith hope and love. But repentance is a choice that’s up to us; it’s a habit we have to develop, because it’s not a habit that we see demonstrated much in our world. Our world would rather take mistakes and put a positive “spin” on them so everyone saves face. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather find someone else to blame for the problems we encounter, so that we can be righteously indignant and accept our own status as victims. But that’s not repentance. Our world would rather encounter an issue by throwing at it money, human resources, military intervention, lawsuits or legislation. But that’s not repentance.

So, quite frankly, if we are ever going to learn the habit of repentance, we are going to have to look elsewhere than the evening news. World leaders are no help at all, and even if the media were to see an example of repentance, I’m not sure they’d give it much play. So where are we going to get the inspiration to live as a repentant people? These Lenten days, we might look at the wayward son’s interaction with the Prodigal Father, or perhaps the woman at the well who left her jug behind to live the new life. We might look at the woman caught in adultery or even at the “good thief” crucified with Jesus. All of these got the idea and turned from their sin toward their God and received life in return. This is the habit of repentance that we have been called to develop in ourselves.

Brothers and sisters, sin enslaves us and makes exiles out of us. Sin takes us out of the community and puts us off on our own, in a very empty place. That exile might look something like this:

  • We ignore the needs of the poor and exile ourselves from the full community;
  • We judge others and thus draw a dividing line between ourselves and those we judge;
  • We lie and are no longer trusted by others;
  • We refuse to forgive, and are trapped in the past, not willing to respond to the present;
  • We cheat, steal and abuse the rights of others and thus offend the right order of the community;
  • We act violently in words and actions and thus perpetuate forces that splinter and violate the human community;
  • We withdraw from their church and diminish the community’s ability to witness to God and serve others.

The exile of sin is heartbreaking, but it doesn’t have to be that way for us. The Liturgy of the Word throughout the Lenten season has been showing us the way back. We have the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire us with desire for communion with our God. We have the grace and mercy poured out on us through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we have the grace to do that one thing that’s missing; to develop that habit that makes us one with our God – that habit of repentance that brings us back no matter how far we have wandered or how many times we have turned away. Our God can still reach us in exile and he can still bring us back to the community, if we will but let him. Our God wants us to have nothing but the very best. He says to us in tonight’s Gospel: “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

And that’s why we’re here tonight. God is aching to pour out on us the grace of his forgiveness and to bring us to his peace beyond all of our understanding, and we have chosen to come and receive it. We have chosen to be a people marked by faith, hope and love. We long to develop that habit of repentance which allows us to receive the new life God has always wanted for us. So let us now as a community of faith examine our conscience and repent of our sins.

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