Penitent: “feeling or expressing sorrow for sin or wrongdoing and disposed to atonement and amendment; repentant; contrite.” (Dictionary.com)
There is a story about Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, arriving at the communion table at the same time as a former staff sergeant who had served at his side at the Battle of Waterloo. When the sergeant recognized his former commander, he raised his arm to salute. Wellesley quickly reached out and stopped him, saying, “No. No. Here we are all the same.”
In this season of Lent we are all the same. We are all penitents. Whether you voted for Trump or supported Hillary, whether you read scripture literally or contextually, whether you cheered for the Patriots or the Rams, whether you subscribe to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, this is the season when we are all marked by the sign of the cross. The black ash from a week ago has long since washed away, but hopefully we each remain somewhat humbled by the profound depth of God’s love compared to the shallowness of our many opinions and self-deceptions. As I have said before, we can lie to our banker or our spouse or our priest, but if we begin to lie to the person we see each morning in the mirror, it is the road to ruin. Unable to see ourselves clearly, we are unable to receive fully the mercy of God that is freely given.
It was the sin of pride that busted Adam and Eve. The seduction of the serpent was more than they could handle: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’…You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Genesis 3). That was one temptation too much. The price was a one-way ticket to east of Eden, where we’ve been stuck for a very long time because we still haven’t figured out that we aren’t nearly as smart as we think we are. The narcissism of our present age has merely poured gasoline on our raging quest for self-affirmation, our irresistible lurching into feelings of self-righteousness.
Come, Lord Jesus. Make us all the same. At least during this season of Lent, turn us all into penitents.
Rev. Don Underwood