I love Lent. Somehow it gives me the opportunity again to honestly own what I deeply know––I am a sinner, and sin. In the words of the confession from the 1559 Book of Common Prayer (see below) which we sometimes still say, “There is no health in us”.
Lent reminds me that apart from God’s grace, there is no health in me. I need a savior, a forgiver, a redeemer, and Jesus is all of those and more.
While the Gospel–the good news–is indeed about God’s Kingdom breaking into the world by and through Jesus Christ, it is also about this: There is forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ. Lent is a long reminder that we sin, and that there is forgiveness, and that through the sacrifice of Jesus our sins are put far from us.
How far? Infinitely far, ‘as far as the east is from the west’.
This is what we read each year during the Ash Wednesday service. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103.12)
I’m so relieved that it is not ‘as far as the north is from the south’.
Think about it, think about our globe. If you start traveling due north from any point, at some point you’ll pass the North Pole, and start traveling south again. Eventually north becomes south.
But if you travel east, you’ll always be going east. If you travel west, you’ll always travel west. East never becomes west, and west never becomes east.
Our sins being removed as far as north and south ends up becoming Karma, where the penalty for our transgressions come back to bite us.
Our sins being removed as far the east is from the west is Grace, where the penalty of our transgressions was paid once for all by Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 9.11-14), never to return to us.
My favorite Irish rocker, St. Bono, gets this very well in his long conversation with Michka Assayas in 2005.
It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…
You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one. Its clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it.
And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled….its not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven…”
Amen. Then this from the English hymn writer: “Twas grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Amen.
So, thank God for Lent! There is much to remember (I am a sinner) and much to celebrate (through Christ I can be forgiven!).
And thank God for grace! That’s actually what Lent (and Christianity) is all about.
The full words of the Anglican Confession, 1559:
ALMIGHTIE and most merciful father, we have erred and straied from thy waies, lyke lost shepee we have folowed to much the devises and desires of our owne hartes. We have offended against thy holy lawes: We have left undone those thinges whiche we ought to have done, and we have done those thinges which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us, but thou, O Lorde, have mercy upon us miserable offendours. Spare thou them O God, whiche confesse their faultes. Restore thou them that be penitent, accordyng to thy promises declared unto mankynde, in Christe Jesu our Lorde. And graunt, O most merciful father, for his sake, that we may hereafter lyve a godly, ryghtuous, and sobre life, to the glory of thy holy name. Amen.