Lenten Penance Service

Today’s readings: Romans 5:12, 17-19; Matthew 26:20-25

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.


Our Gospel tonight shows us what happens when we forget repentance and penance and the grace of reconciliation.  Despair over our own sins blinds us to the mercy of God that has been staring us right in the face, walking with us all along the way.  In our own desperate and fumbling attempts to make all that is wrong in us right, we make ourselves miserable, we give up on what is good, and we betray our Lord, again.  But we can’t be like Judas, trying to save face – “Surely it is not I, Lord?”  We have to learn the rich virtue of repentance, we have to become people of repentance.


But where and to whom do we look to become that people?  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 that’s no help.  Perhaps in these Lenten days, the Liturgy of the Word can be our teacher.  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.


The only thing our God wants to do is to forgive sinners.  Not just once, not twice, not even seventy-seven times, but rather as many times as we fall – so long as we repent and turn back to him, the source of grace and the font of salvation.


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.