Lent & The Truth About Us
During Lent, the staff at Atlanta Christian Church takes turns writing weekly devotionals taken from the Collects in the Book of Common Prayer. This is the one I wrote for today, Ash Wednesday, beginning with the Collect for today.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Welcome to Lent. At the end of this season, we will sing hallelujah and celebrate the resurrection of Christ. But not yet. We have some things to sort out first.
Underneath everything else, Lent is a season to be bent and busted and broken and let God do the hard and holy work of making us new. Some people will get ashes on their forehead today. Some people will fast and abstain from a habit for the next 40 days. Others will take up a new discipline. Underneath all of this is the recognition that who we are is not, and can never be, “good enough.” And that is the point.
Over the past few decades, there has been a growing movement in our culture that says we are all okay just as we are and we should not feel the need to change for anyone and whatever makes anyone happy is fine; eat as much as you want, drink as much as you want, sleep with whomever you want, and get all you can along the way. Live your best life. You deserve to be happy.
This is all a lie.
The truth is, we are a mess. And really, as much as anyone talks about self-care and positivity, few actually believe it. It is the kind of thing that if true, would not necessitate repeating so loud and so often. Deep down, we all sense something in ourselves is not okay, that maybe we could be better, and that whatever we think makes us happy actually leaves us wanting. We are not living our best lives, and maybe we don’t even deserve to.
It would do us good to spend a little more time thinking of ourselves as lowly. It is only in that humble state that we understand the need for grace and the enormity of God’s sacrifice through Jesus. It is the only hope we have.
The collect for today borrows from Psalm 51, where David laments of his failure to be a good man and the reality of his need for God’s grace to make him new. David makes no pretense at being righteous, about trying his best, about living his best life. God’s troubadour is not on an emotional high, singing to elevate himself. He is sitting in the ruins of failure.
This is where God does his best work. When we are honest about ourselves. When we come down from the mountaintop and have to trust that the Lord will walk with us through the valley. When we fail at even trying and have to admit that we have put idols in God’s place in our hearts. When we admit that we are not, in fact, perfect just the way we are.
As we begin this season of Lent together, let our hearts soak in the reality of our weakness, to examine the nature of our frailty, to look at the mess we have made of lives, and invite Christ to do for us what we fail so hard at doing for ourselves.
Atlanta Christian Church hosts a weekly Lenten podcast called Blues for Lent. You can listen to it by going here. We also curate a Spotify playlist of blues tunes as a means of reflection during Lent. If you like that sort of thing, follow here and listen along. And finally, if you would like to sign up for our weekly devotional series, you can do so right here.