Jesus instructs us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Jesus included this instruction in the body of a discourse on “motivation and the secret heart.” Preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is admonishing the people with regard to their inner life and the reason they do the things they do, “in order to be seen by men” (6:1b). The motivation and practice of prayer are linked in the heart as the mind forms and the body reacts. Private prayer is exactly that, private. It is a time to be naked and vulnerable before God in a special way and it should carry no pretense.
Let us pray,
These three words are so often anticipated in liturgy that the body moves even before they are spoken. Our worship on Sunday (and at all worship times) is a corporate gathering in which we pray together. Indeed, we are alone in our prayer with God, but we are alone with God even as we are gathered one to another as God’s chosen people. Our public prayer is edifying to God because of our gathering, we gather together to praise and petition for ourselves and each other—together.
Let us pray,
How do you hear these words when you are in worship? What does your spirit do, and your mind say? Our sacred time together in worship is as important as your time alone. Jesus tells us, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” He speaks here of the heart as well the body: our devotion to God is known only to us and originates in the secret places of our heart and spirit.
Let us pray,
Dear heavenly Father,
Thank You for the calling, privilege, and importance of worshiping together on the Lord’s Day and every time we gather in Your Holy Name. Because it’s a calling, we dare not dismiss it easily, or take it lightly. Because it’s You we get to meet with, may we come prepared, expectant, and evermore grateful.
According to the Scriptures, our gatherings will become increasingly important, as the Day of Jesus’ return grows closer and closer. Help us to take corporate worship more seriously and engage more whole-heartedly than ever.
Dear Lord Jesus, I love and worship You for all that You have done for us, and Lord I long to worship You in spirit and in truth, just as You told the woman at the well. Thank You for making me in Your own image, and for all the many blessings and benefits that You have bestowed on me. Lord, I want to surrender to You, completely; to present myself as a living sacrifice before You each day; to take up my cross daily and present myself to You as my spiritual act of worship, for You alone are worthy, You alone are the Lord.
Open my eyes to see You more. Open my ears to hear Your still small voice and open my heart to worship You more and more so that I may grow in grace and in knowledge of my Lord, Jesus Christ.
Father, may we, as your beloved children, give you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit the worship of which you are alone worthy. Feed our minds with your Word; fill our hearts with your grace; empower our worship by your Spirit. May we gather, not as selfish consumers, looking to be pleased; but as true worshipers, longing to be consumed with your glory and grace.
We pray for those who lead us in your worship, and those who bring us your Word. Theirs is great stewardship and responsibility. May the gospel be powerful in their hearts and fresh on their lips. May they see and savor Jesus, that we might do the same. Free them to honor and glorify you and empower them to love and serve us.
Father, through our corporate worship, we pray you will be blessed, revealed, and magnified; and that we will be humbled, gladdened, and transformed. As we lift Jesus up, we trust you to take us low and draw the nations in. Amen! Amen! Amen! we pray. Let it be so in Jesus’ loving and worship-worthy name.
That we “may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 264)
Service for the Imposition of Ashes
To be truly forgiven we must be truly honest with ourselves and with God about what it is we are to be forgiven for.
This doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We believe that God already knows what we need and what to do for us as we cry out to God, but in matters of shame and regret, we often miss the point.
God already knows what I need. When we approach God in supplication and ask to be forgiven, we believe that we need forgiveness (and we do), but because of our pain, or shame, or guilt we believe that forgiveness is ALL we need. How many times have you gone to God in supplication and asked for forgiveness for the same thing? Ten, 100, 1000 times? Why hasn’t it worked? If forgiveness is all we need once would be enough, but there is something else we need as well. In order to truly receive forgiveness, we must first truly embrace the pain.
No doubt you have suffered the pain of shame and regret. When we suffer we look for an escape, to get away (or put away) from that which afflicts us. In contrast, God knows we need to embrace the pain, to be truly clear about the event, and be honest about our part in it. To be forgiven we must offer up to God everything that we are asking forgiveness for, most of all our clear and honest self. To go to God with a generic, “forgive me for hurting him/her” is not asking to be forgiven for the depth of your part in the hurt. Only when you are honest and clear with yourself can you be honest and clear with God. Only when you truly offer up the depth of your pain, enumerated and itemized, fully aware and fully responsible, will you be able to truly be forgiven?
In the Gospel of Luke (18:18-30) we witness an exchange between Jesus and a “certain ruler,” in which he affirms the self-knowledge of the man and his quest for eternal life. After a short exchange, Jesus tells him, “You still lack one thing”; that one thing will be and will always remain the source of the pain and longing of the man. It’s a lot like a splinter: leave even a little piece behind and the pain and festering will continue.
None of us wants to review or relive the horrors of our past, those “things we have done, or left undone.” Tragically, like the “certain ruler,” it is actually our familiarity with our pain and our desire for eternal life that keep us from addressing the core of our need. Jesus told the ruler to “Sell everything you have and give to the poor.” True, this was not pain of a past offense, but a manner of life. Still, the point Jesus was making was that the ruler had left this stone unturned and the attitude that lurked below was the splinter that would continue to fester. Jesus gave this advice to the ruler—to sell everything, to propel him to a place of realization and responsibility the effect of which was his freedom for eternity. The ruler’s eternal life, complete with a clear conscious and joyful soul, would start now.
Lent is our time, not the only time, but our liturgical time, to turn over that stone, reveal that truth, own that pain, articulate that suffering, and receive that forgiveness. Your eternal life of freedom and joy can start now, and well it should.
That we “may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord”
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
As Jesus hung dying on the Cross, he prayed aloud to the Father to forgive those who crucified him. As we draw closer to Good Friday, and the image of the Crucifixion gets clearer, these words grow louder and heavier; but are we hearing them right?
Our Lord was certainly praying for forgiveness for those directly responsible for his impending earthly death, but that was not all. His prayer extended beyond that moment, past those offenses, all the way to you and me. Jesus was praying for the ‘whole human condition’ (or ‘sub-human’ as we are not living up to the humanness that God intended) of self-focus, selfish determination, and perspective. They killed him because they couldn’t see beyond their fear and desire. The others only watched because they couldn’t stop looking inside their selves where there was only them. Father forgive them…
Jesus prayed this prayer as he died knowing that the conditions which fostered and promoted this event would not die with him but would live on in every generation yet to come. Jesus was letting go of the ministry and all that came with it and accepting the Father’s grace, mercy, and love to guide and cover all that would come next.
Jesus prayed this prayer even as the Holy Spirit was poised to intercede to help us rise above the world and find peace in the One who forgives us. He had already taught the people the lessons of prayer and forgiveness and given them/us the prayer that reminds us of how important it is and convicts us of our sloth: …forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
In the portrayals of the crucifixion, we hear Jesus pray from the Cross, not as a whisper—an afterthought breathed out almost unconsciously, but as a proclamation! His forgiveness prayer was effort-filled, an act of will and decision, and so must ours be. Forgiveness is an action we perform, not something that just happens to us. We must take part in, energetically pursue, and continuously focus on forgiving, in order to be set free. In his best-selling book, The Shack, Paul Young writes:
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat [sometimes your own].…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for wholeness…”
Young writes of the multiple times we attempt forgiveness, not because we aren’t asking, but perhaps because we aren’t letting go. We often think about letting go (if we actually ever think about it) as something that just happens: “he just let go.” In reality, it is an action at the end of deliberation and a thought process: “he let go because he knew this was the best chance he had.” It is the same when we are trying to forgive others or accept forgiveness ourselves; letting go requires investment and takes effort.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons we find it so hard to forgive or accept forgiveness; that the effort required to let go demands a level of introspection which opens doors we don’t want to be opened. I have known people who are defined by their pain, their anger, or their hurt. A real-life event, over time, becomes the ground that defines their life. No longer a single painful moment, it becomes the lens through which all life is viewed and in which they live. To undertake the process of forgiveness will require letting go of the way we have lived because it’s the best chance we have.
This will be a monumental undertaking and a frightening one; still, we are called to it as a foundation block of our faith. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) As monumental and frightening as it may be, it is what we must do, and doing it will truly set us free.
Letting go of the hurts and disappointments, letting go of anger and resentment, letting go of the wrongs we have done to others, those done to us, and the wrongs we do to ourselves, letting go in a positive affirming way will fundamentally change the way we see the world and how we interact from that moment on.
Letting go is about feeding our compassion, our love for ourselves and each other. When we are letting go, we are actively facing our pain and actively choosing to let the Father take it from us. Perhaps a good visual image is one of an astronaut in the Space Station holding something, and when she lets it go, it drifts away. No violence, no crashing to the ground, just freedom, unencumbered freedom.
Letting go in this way is adopting an attitude of forgiveness which isn’t activated when we are wronged but is a deep abiding daily practice. Forgiveness is no longer a transactional event in response to a thing, it is how we live our lives.
Letting go of the burden of self and embracing the Holy Spirit, we are joined with Christ and receive the mercy of the Father. Accepting the Father’s forgiveness, we are able to forgive “…those who trespass against us.”
Letting go in Christ,
During the Ash Wednesday service we are called to “the observance of a Holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word” (BCP 265). While this recited commitment is part of a singular and particular liturgy, it is also an ongoing spiritual event lived out in the physical reality of our lives.
We commit to immersing ourselves deeply in daily prayer, in “fasting,” and by separating ourselves from any mental, physical or spiritual obstacle that may prevent us from progressing on our journey to God. Thomas Merton in his work, Seasons of Celebration, writes, “The purpose of Lent is not only expiation, to satisfy the divine justice, but above all a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy—a gift which we receive in so far as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.” Merton relies heavily on the Gospel of John and Christ’s own words, “every dead branch will be purged, while every good branch will be pruned so as to bring forth more fruit (John 15:1).”
Merton suggests that while fasting and self-denial are vital expressions of Lenten spirituality, what matters most is the fruit of those practices, our faithful and Spirit-empowered efforts to share the fullness of God’s life and love in our broken world.
Perhaps there is a small likelihood of our doing so. But in any case, penance is conceived by the Church less as a burden than as a liberation. It is only a burden to those who take it up unwillingly. Love makes it light and happy. And that is another reason why Ash Wednesday is filled with the lightness of love. (94)
He continues, “In laying upon us the light cross of ashes, the Church desires to take off our shoulders all other heavy burdens—the crushing load of worry and obsessive guilt, the dead weight of our own self-love. We should not take upon ourselves a 'burden' of penance and stagger into Lent as if we were Atlas, carrying the whole world on his shoulders.” Rather, we are called to release all that is self-focused, and the willing and growing in dependence, trust, and faith in God to the point of truly enjoying and feasting on his mercy.
If we’re being honest, there is much about life to fill a heavy heart. Even if our days go well, only a half-step away a family member or neighbor suffers deeply. Our congregation, our communities, our world, especially—everywhere we look is brokenness, struggle, and pain. Heavy pain on the outside, heavy hearts on the inside. It’s not easy to “let go and let God,” as they say, but this is where the disciplines and practices of Lent are so valuable, for it is those habits that will lead you closer to God. By now, we’ve washed the ashes from our foreheads, but the reality of God’s mercy is ours to claim every moment. Retrace the imprint of those ashes on your forehead. (The same imprint, by the way, marked on your forehead with oil at confirmation when you were “sealed as Christ’s own forever). Meditate on this image, this amazing spiritual gift that is ours to assume through Lent and own for the rest of our lives: “In laying upon us the light cross of ashes, the Church desires to take off our shoulders all other heavy burdens.”
In laying upon us the “light cross of ashes,” Christ set us free.
Peace in Christ,
“Create and make in us new and contrite hearts…” BCP 264
These words are taken from the opening prayer of the Ash Wednesday service. They are found in the middle of the prayer, preceded by the awareness of God’s mercy, and followed by our acknowledgment of sinfulness and our petition for forgiveness, using such terms as “wretchedness” and “lamenting.” Create and make in us new and contrite hearts… It’s such an open and earnest prayer for God to breathe new life into us. But how does that happen?
Lent in a time of confusion
We enter our Lenten observance tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, having lived with a prevailing disquietude for the past year or so. The smell of COVID, politics, civil unrest, conspiracy, and all manner of world conflict has filled our nostrils and stifled the pure fresh Ruach, the Breath of God. It is time to shake off the oppression, the preoccupation, the tyranny of distraction; it is time to “turn from [our] wickedness…and live” (BCP 269). Who today isn’t in need of a new heart?
As we prepare for the revelation of God’s sacrifice for us, as we prepare for the overwhelming truth of God’s love for us, we must honestly look at ourselves to understand why. That, in part, is what Lent is about: suffering in the self-aware evaluation of shortcomings, acknowledging the distance and distractions we have allowed to come into our hearts and being part of God’s re-creation.
There are many devotionals and prayer practices available to guide us through this process, to help us reflect and repent as Easter draws near. Let me commend to you the power of a people gathered. Our congregational life together is important, and a worthy place to encounter God’s heart-remaking business. It is the world that seeks to divide and break apart; it is the world that champions autonomy and individuality at the expense of love and fidelity; this is not of God. Remember, God lifts up the body, the Body as an important reality of Christian life: You are one in Christ. Our community is blessed by your presence and lacking when you are not there. Please join us for this year’s Lenten devotion and spiritual program:
Wednesday Night Lenten Program
March 9th – April 6th via zoom 7-8:30 pm
“New Eyes on Christ: Seeing things we’ve never heard”
Join this five-week study as we delve into the Scriptures to encounter the person and teachings of Jesus in a new way. Through a multi-media approach including dramatizations, music, and imagery, we will revisit well-known Bible stories and lessons to come away changed, to be remade, to—well, to welcome new and clean hearts. We aren’t just praying it; we are expectant and receiving it! As we travel the Way of the Cross through Lent, we will be fed and uplifted by Christ as we grow closer to him and better understand his lessons for us.
Ash Wednesday services are in person in the sanctuary (and on Zoom) March 2nd at 12:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Wednesday Lenten Program Schedule:
7:15 Compline (sign up to lead if you wish!)
7:30-8:30 Program (Specific study/stories TBA in next week’s CC)
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†