Lent is coming. That means you still have a few days to get ready to take a dive into repentance.
Chances are that doesn’t sound like such a great offer. Especially in the Protestant world we have a pretty hard time with repentance.
We associate the word “repent” with our lunatic fringe, carrying signs about the end of the world.
And in our post-freudian post-modern culture we tend to assume that there is nothing, really to repent of. We aim for positive, affirming attitudes at all times.
Sometimes in worship we even do a little liturgical side-step where the “prayer of confession” doesn’t actually admit to any wrongdoing.
Things are a bit different in the East.
On the first Monday night of Lent last year I found myself at an Orthodox church for the service known as “Great Compline.”
The sermon came at the end. The priest was glowing. He had a great opening:
I don’t know about you but I couldn’t wait to get to Church tonight! It is LENT!
Here was someone convinced that Lent was where the real action happened. He looked forward to the 40 day privilege of repentance, journeying with his Church to new life in Christ.
And it is a privilege. Paul says it is a gift of God’s kindness:
Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 RSV)
Lent is so important in the East that for several weeks before Lent every worship service is focused on getting ready for it.
The Sunday of the Prodigal Son
The second of those preparatory Sundays of Orthodox pre-Lent is worth a thought here in the last days of Western Lent.
They call it “The Sunday of the Prodigal Son.” The hymns explore the great Parable Jesus told (Luke 15:11-32) in which a greedy son asked for his inheritance early, wasted it, and then sought to return to his father as a servant rather than starve.
- You can preach it the story of the waiting Father, who eagerly welcomes his lost son again.
- You can preach it as the story of the grumpy older brother who feels jealous that the guy who acted badly gets welcomed back with a party.
- Or you can focus on the prodigal, the one who did everything wrong but repents and receives grace.
That third option is the one you find in the Orthodox hymns.
The hymns place every worshipper into the role of the one who totally messed up and comes back to ask forgiveness.
As the Prodigal Son I come to Thee, merciful Lord. I have wasted my whole life in a foreign land; I have scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father. Receive me in repentance, O God, and have mercy upon me. (Lenten Triodion, p. 113)
They have each worshipper look for and find the feelings of sorrow coming from the prodigal’s wrong choices:
I have wasted the wealth which the Father gave to me, and in my wretchedness I have fed with the dumb beasts. Yearning after their food, I remained hungry and could not eat my fill. But now I return to the compassionate Father and cry out with tears: I fall down before Thy loving-kindness, receive me as a hired servant and save me. (Lenten Triodion, p. 113)
It is an explicit prayer of confession:
O Jesus my God, as the Prodigal Son now accept me also in repentance. All my life I have lived in carelessness and provoked Thee to anger. (Lenten Triodion, p. 115)
And in a self-searching akin to what you find in a 12 Step program, they all admit that choices have had consequences:
Utterly beside myself, I have clung in madness to the sins suggested to me by the passions. But accept me, O Christ, as the Prodigal. (Lenten Triodion, p. 116)
The wealth of blessings which Thou gavest me, heavenly Father, have I wrongly wasted and become the slave of strangers. Therefore I cry aloud to Thee: I have sinned against Thee; receive me like the Prodigal of old, opening Thine arms to me. (Lenten Triodion, p. 117)
So let’s go for it, my friend. Let’s be brave, find the truth about ourselves, and tell God the truth about how we’ve turned the wrong way.
God is there waiting, eagerly. That’s what Lent is all about.
Lent is coming! What a great time to focus on your prayer life.
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