So why, you ask, do Christians keep an annual season — 40 days — devoted to self-examination and repentance? Isn’t that a bit of a downer?
But then, I’ve always liked washing windows.
I don’t wash them nearly often enough, but that’s another story. When I do, it is fantastic.
I usually start when the room is getting gloomy even on sunny days. Grimy, streaky glass. Ugh.
Then I find the Windex. I find some towels.
Spray. Wipe. Polish. Repeat.
The surface shines. It actually squeaks. Very cool.
The joy comes when I step inside: the whole room is different.
My whole world is more beautiful. Dealing with the dirt lets light stream in.
As I’ve noted before, in the Heidelberg Catechism “repentance” has two dimensions: “dying away of the old self” and “rising to life” — out with the old, and in with the new. The “rising to life” part is clearly a happy thing.
I think, though, that even the “dying away” part is good. Lent, repentance, can be as life-giving as a good Spring cleaning. Here’s how the Catechism (that widely used and well-loved 451 year old summary of biblical Christianity) describes it:
89 Q. What is the dying-away of the old self? A. To be genuinely sorry for sin and more and more to hate and run away from it.
There are lots of reasons to feel “sorry for sin” and some of my posts this Lent will look at them. For today I want to suggest it is a lot like sitting in your living room on a bright late-winter day and realizing it looks gross.
Why does everything look kind of dim and gray?
The windows! I HATE these dirty windows! This is horrible!
And then you notice it is a warm late-winter day. After weeks and weeks when you couldn’t take the frozen air, today is sunny. The snow is thawing. When the sun is shining, dirty windows are a solvable problem.
GET ME THAT WINDEX!
When you feel sorry about an actual problem, that is a step toward solving it.
When you decide you hate that problem, that is another step toward solving it.
When you get up and move, when you run from that problem, and toward the solution, notice what you feel:
That’s the joy of Lent.
The Heidelberg Catechism isn’t saying that our own efforts are the solution to the sin that ruins our lives. The writers were very clear that it is Jesus who frees us. An ongoing relationship of wholehearted trust — faith — is how he brings us through.
In Lent we are running from sin, but not all alone. We are running with Jesus.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What feelings do “Lent” and “repentance” spark in you?
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