By Deacon Jerry Franzen Cathedral February 27, 2012
Genesis 9: 8-15 1 Peter 3: 18-22 Mark 1: 12-15
The preface is the prayer said by the priest
right after the Holy, Holy Holy.
There are special prefaces for certain feasts and seasons.
In the first of the choices for the preface for Lent,
in the new translation,
the priest prays to God with these words
regarding the Lenten season:
“for by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure……”
That gracious gift is the season of Lent.
Some would rather God not provide that gift.
One year, when I served at St. Paul parish in Florence,
there were very sparce decorations
in church on the first Sunday of Advent.
A parishioner asked me,
“What are we trying to do around here,
make Advent as gloomy as Lent?
The words of the preface were “joy of minds,”
yet it seems that everybody is trying to give up something.
Candy? Snacks? Adult beverages?
Joy? We can’t eat meat on Fridays; Oh! We are so fragile.
We start Lent by wearing ashes. Glad it’s not sackcloth too.
Imagine having to wear clothes made from burlap.
What would be joyful about that?
It would seem that we Christians
have certainly given Lent a bad name.
I tell people that Lent is my favorite time of the year,
and they look at me like I’m crazy.
For years, I couldn’t explain it.
That’s just the way it was, the way I felt.
I now know that it’s because Lent points to Easter.
Easter has always been most important to me,
And, thus, the season leading up to Easter
has been my favorite.
Lent ends with the beginning of the Holy Thursday liturgy,
and the absolute best time of the Church’s year begins.
Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil,
aka Holy Saturday, and then Easter Sunday,
But I do realize that Lent in not everybody’s favorite time.
It’s because there is a tension.
How do we reconcile our spending Lent
with a “joy of mind”
and still deal with ashes, sackcloth, denial,
and our feelings of gloom and doom?
Why is it that every year we hear the story
of the encounter of Jesus with the Devil
on the first Sunday of Lent?
That sounds pretty gloomy.
Why does Jesus seem to warn us:
“The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Sounds like a warning of impending doom to me.
It would seem that the joy mentioned in the preface
should be connected to “Rejoice” instead of “Repent?”
On the surface, repentance is a feeling of sorrow, regret.
David regretted his actions with Bathsheba,
and his killing of her husband, Uriah.
The prodigal son regretted how he squandered his inheritance.
Peter regretted that he denied Jesus three times.
Each was repentant;
each felt sorrow for having done wrong.
But the word “repent” carries a more basic idea;
it has a positive thrust that comes from the prophets.
When the prophets pointed out the sins of the Israelites,
the sinners wore sackcloth and ashes,
they shrieked and sobbed publicly,
they cut themselves,
they confessed their faults out loud.
But the prophets were not impressed.
They saw the external symbols of repentance,
but they saw that nothing was happening inside.
True repentance involves a change of mind and heart,
new attitudes, fresh patterns of behavior, a new start.
We just heard from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday,
“Rend your hearts, not your garments.”
Change what is inside.
Sharing in the community ritual of ashes
means nothing, unless hardened habits change
and there is a new attitude toward God.
In the early church,
when an adult Christian sinned greviously,
the repentant person went to the bishop for confession.
A popular penance was the wearing of sackcloth and ashes
for an extended period of time.
This was not so much done to mark a person as a sinner,
as it was to mark the person as one
who is seeking to change those old habits,
one that is looking forward to a new start.
We wore the ashes of Wednesday,
not just to remind us of our sin,
not just to show the whole world that we are sinners.
We wore the ashes of Wednesday
to remind us that this is again our chance,
our time to change,
that there is a new beginning.
The ashes were applied in the form of a cross
to indicate that the new beginning is made possible
by Jesus’ Good Friday death on the cross
and His Easter resurrection.
We are not Christians, entombed in sin,
pretending that Christ has not risen.
We’ve heard the Good News.
We must rejoice because we can repent.
On Wednesday when the ashes were applied,
we probably heard:
“Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.‘‘
The alternate words are: “Repent and believe in the Gospel,”
the same words we heard today at the end of the Gospel:
Jesus had been baptized in Jordan by John;
he then spent 40 days in the desert
in preparation for his ministry.
When he began his ministry,
his first declaration of the Good News was
“The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
So, how do we do it? How do we repent?
We must refuse to live in yesterday.
We must refuse the evil of yesterday by confronting yesterday,
as Jesus confronted Satan.
Jesus did not have to take that trip to the desert
for his benefit.
He took that trip for our benefit.
Jesus chose to meet up with Satan,
to make it clear to us that we must confront temptation.
Realizing we have done wrong is the first step.
Feeling sorrow and regret is the second step.
Turning away from evil is the third step, and that takes work.
It requires that we, like Jesus, confront the source of evil.
Deal with it; root it out; proceed to avoid it .
If the abuse of alcohol
has caused you to have some interpersonal problems,
make Lent the time to express your regrets
to those you hurt – and to confess those sins.
BUT, also make this Lent the time to go further:
during this Lent define that abuse as yesterday,
celebrate this Lent as the tomorrow of change.
Confront the reasons for the abuse and defeat them.
Am I using alcohol to try to improve my image,
an image that is already baptized in the likeness of God?
Avoid the companions that support your abuse.
This might even be a good reason
for giving up alcohol for Lent.
Who have we hurt by our greed,
that insatiable appetite for money or power?
Lent is the time to be sorrowful, to make amends,
but today’s preface says that we must not stop there.
Celebrate Lent with the “joy of the mind”
that recognizes the tomorrow of generosity
and service to others.
Confront the reasons for greed.
Ask yourself how they line up with a God that is Love?
This might be a good reason
to increase your gifts to the needy during Lent.
How have I not brought God’s love to those around me?
Tell God that you regret
that you may have shunned Him, ignored Him,
abandoned Him in others.
Tell him that pride, selfishness, hatred and lust
are on the way out of your life.
Celebrate the fact that you can reform your life.
Don’t put on the sackcloth and ashes of doom and gloom
because of this season.
Put on the sackcloth and ashes of celebration
because of this season,
and say “Rejoice, I am repenting,
I am turning my life around,
I am doing something new with great joy.
I am trying to follow the teachings of the Gospel.”
The words of the preface were, “the joy of minds made pure.”
That purity comes from our belief in the Gospel.
Put on the sackcloth and ashes of the season
because you TRULY DO
believe in the Good News of salvation.