It is tempting during Lent to engage in expressions of piety. I very much like the discipline of mid-week Lenten services at my church and my attendance could be seen as devotion to a religious practice or a duty. But I can honestly say that is not what motivates my attendance. I look forward to this time of year because it comes at the end of what seems to be each year a longer and more trying winter. I have a very ecological connection with the church year. Lent comes at the right time of the year for me. I go to the mid-week Lenten services because I need an attitude adjustment. It is so easy to grow weary and discouraged with life in the winter. It is dark and dreary much of the time. I am tired of snow removal and staying indoors because of ice. And this winter I am worried about all the members of my family who are laid off from work and the sagging state of the economy. I am angry about the greedy and dishonest people who have contributed to these problems. My sin is grumbling and complaining and not being very hopeful.
It is tempting to use mid-week Lenten services as a self-righteous retreat from the egregious sins of the world that are certainly not committed by me. Like a good Pharisee, I am tempted to offer as a sacrifice to God my disciplined attendance and prayers of thanksgiving to God that I am not like those corporate executives, bankers, and investment geniuses that made off with other people’s money without expressing an ounce of guilt. That form of piety, however, is despised by God. What God wants is for me to change the way I think about my own guilt, not that of other people. God wants a contrite heart that is truly penitent. God wants to know that I am remorseful about my grumbling.
The Lenten challenge for me is to call upon God’s mercy for my own offenses rather than compare myself to others who seem a whole lot worse. Attendance is not a religious duty. Lenten worship is an opportunity, a time to draw closer to God’s mercy for me, to recognize and appreciate God’s disposition to forgive and offer relief from suffering rather than punishment for my sins. I know that God wants humility and in return, God grants kindness far in excess of our expectations. But I admit that is difficult for me to comprehend. I go to these worship services to return to the Lord and be healed, but to be completely honest, I don’t really feel it until spring.
Lent comes at the right time of year for me. I can really relate to the words in Hosea. God “will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.” That is how I feel God’s mercy during Lent. It is now the third week in Lent. Winter is over and it is the time of the spring equinox. I can feel the warm rain washing me from my guilt and know God’s mercy. Warm spring rain is how I experience God’s mercy and compassion and a deep sense of renewal and healing. As I prepare to celebrate the passion of Christ, I pray all of God’s people will know that mercy and express their love for the Lord in the week ahead.
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