Lent Penance Service

Today’s Gospel: John 3:14-21

The only thing God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Period.  That’s what our Gospel reading tells us very plainly today: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  And so, 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. 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.

And that one thing is the thing that must come from within us, namely, 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.

The problem, as our Gospel tells us this evening, is that the world prefers the darkness of sin and ignorance and death over the glorious light of God’s grace and forgiveness, and mercy.  It’s insanity, but that’s the sad truth of our world.

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. The only thing our God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Not just once, not twice, but as many times as we fall and as often  as we turn away – so long as we repent and turn back to him.

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. The only thing God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  So let us now as a community of faith examine our conscience and repent of our sins.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading contains four of the most chilling words in all of holy Scripture: “And it was night.”  Those narrative words come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But the Beloved Disciple didn’t include those words to tell us the time of day.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world as opposed to the light of Christ.

That John tells us it was night meant that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to an apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon Jesus Christ and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of all of the sins of the world have made it a very dark night indeed.

But we know the end of the story.  This hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night.

In these Holy days, we see the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. May we find courage in the way he triumphed over this fearful night.