Sunday, March 20, 2011

Exhortation (A Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent)

Disclaimer: Though a student of theology, though a student of Christian thought, though at the beginning of deep learning in these fields, I am not a theologian. I am not yet wise in the ways of living faithfully. But I hope in this season of Lent, of preparation and hungry patience, of running with you to the Cross, I can offer some words to reflect on, as we lean forward to Easter.

I am a crier. Inside. Outside I cry rarely, the tears only forced out of my eyes or bursting out from the inability to say it any other way. I cry inside at all sorts of things. My mouth pulls down slightly, my eyelids flutter, I look sideways, or down then up in a sort of contemplative, and somehow sad, stare. My face is a mirror of my heart, and it's been that way for as long as I can remember.

"What's that face for?" so many will ask me when they sit across from me at Starbucks, over toffee nut lattes or vanilla Ceylon tea or ginger peach decaf or as we're walking along the waterfront or 8th St or the beach. "What's going on?" they say, their eyes inquisitive, their hands open. And how do I explain it? That sometimes words and prayers and time and song and tea stroll into my heart and live there, catch flame, and I cry inside because it is so good, because the point is to bless the Lord. I cry inside because of what He's planting, and growing, and harvesting, and how my soul is becoming fertile ground for His love. 

And today my inside crier wept her way through the Exhortation read after the Lenten acclamation: Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures forever

I wish I had wise words about the Exhortation. I wish I knew something... theological or pithy or beautiful to say. But the point, I suspect, is to let my words cease. Let the inside crier cry. So I am copying part of the Exhortation, which can be found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 316. 

Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members of one another. 

Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders unto Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life...

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God's commandments that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food...

To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifices of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins to Almighty God].

And my inner crier cries because I hear the exhortation - come boldly before the throne of grace, and acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And I wonder how I can do that, how I can come boldly when I am bringing in my hands the resentment, the greed, the envy, the pride, the way I snapped at a family member and shot a withering look at a friend and judged someone wrongly and assumed something untrue and gossiped. I am lugging this to the Cross, and it seems so heavy, that I can't possibly come boldly anywhere. Surely, God, you realize I'm lugging this stuff to you reluctantly? I don't want to tell you that I am sinful. I don't want to admit any of this before the throne of grace {have you ever said that, too?}. I really don't want to come with the full purpose of amendment of life. 

(Photo Credit: Ryan Groff, Italy 2011)
But there the exhortation breathes out of the priest and into me, like the wind whistling through the Italy air and I hear it over and over as if from a great distance and from right next to me: come boldly.  When you offer your heart, your weighty, full heart and its troubles and its vices... God will not give them back to you. 
(Photo Credit: Hannah Cochran)
He will not give you back your heart as you gave it to him. He will make it new. He will forge it in the glorious mercy of the Cross. He will fill it with new life, and he will tell you again - Hilary, come boldly. Come boldly. 

Second Sunday in Lent (Anglican Book of Common Prayer)

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious
to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them
again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and
hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ
thy Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and
reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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