A Prayer of Repentance for our Nation

It has been many months since my last post–and what a few months it has been. Recently, I have felt a growing need to seek the Lord’s forgiveness, not for myself alone, but for this nation as a whole. I turned to Daniel chapter 9 for a pray of repentance for the nation. What has come of that Biblical search and the practice of praying the Scripture is below. I hope that you will join me in praying for our nation. I would beg your responses to my post.

A Prayer of Repentance for our Nation

America is in turmoil.  We are in the midst of a pandemic.  As a consequence of the precautions against the spread of the virus we are experiencing increased unemployment, businesses are going bankrupt, and we are seeing a rise in discouragement, depression, and suicide.  Substance abuse is on the rise, and domestic violence has reared its ugly head in more and more homes.  Many schools, churches, and entertainment venues are closed, and social distancing is the watchword of the day.  There is widespread social unrest and political upheaval.  Race riots have once again erupted in our cities.  Our population is more and more divided on economic, racial, and sexual lines.  And the natural order seems to reflect this pervasive unease in our nation.  The Saharan dust storms clouded our skies, the number of tropical storms this early in the season is unprecedented, and a massive derecho has pummeled the midwest.  There are wildfires raging in the west, and record heat is being recorded throughout the nation.  What are we to do?

The Holy Scriptures tell us that the people of God are to stand in the gap on behalf of the nation.  In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 our Lord confronts us with this exhortation:  “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  It is a command with a promise.  “If MY people, who are called by MY Name”…that is us—the people of God—the ones who are called by His Name.  We are Christ-ians.  We are called to prayerfully stand in the gap on behalf of this entire nation.  But how shall we pray?  The exhortation in Chronicles tells us that we are to “humble [our]selves, and pray and seek [His] face and turn from [our] wicked ways.”  We are to repent.  Repent not just for ourselves, but for the sins of the nation.  We are to stand in the gap.

As Americans, we practice “democracy”—government by the people.  Thus, when things are amiss in our nation, it is because the “people” are not in right alignment—we have turned aside from God’s commandments and ordinances.  Should we be surprised that in turning our back on God’s Word He has allowed us to descend into such a deep pit of despair?  When God “shut[s] up the heavens” or “send[s] a plague among [the] people” He is not so much punishing us as calling us to return to Him.  He is calling us to repent!  But you may say, “I have done nothing wrong, why must I repent?”

Daniel had done nothing wrong.  He was a man of the Word.  He had kept covenant.  But he accepted his corporate identity and responsibility as a man of the covenant people.  On behalf of the entire nation of Israel, he humbled himself and repented.  Daniel stood in the gap and interceded for his entire nation.  He set the example for us.  He has taught us how to stand in the gap for our nation, for all of the people of this land.  The promise in Chronicles is that if we, the people of God, will stand in the gap and humble ourselves, God “will hear from heaven…will forgive [our] sin and will heal [our] land.”  

Daniel’s prayer of repentance on behalf of all Israel is recorded for us in chapter nine of the Book of Daniel.  I would encourage you to read that prayer in the context of the Book of Daniel.  Listen to Daniel’s heart and let it challenge and confront your own.  I have been using this prayer to pray for our nation, and have felt moved to adapt it to the needs that we have in our nation today.  Here is Daniel’s prayer rewritten as a prayer for our nation in these early years of the 21st century.

The Prayer for our Nation:

O Lord our God, You are great and awesome!  You are always faithful in keeping covenant with all who love You and walk in the way of Your commandments.  But we have sinned against You, and rebelled against Your Word and disobeyed Your commandments.  We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, or been obedient to those whom You have placed over us in Your Name.

Lord, You are righteous, but we are unfaithful and this nation is covered with shame.  Our political and religious leaders, our families and our selves, we are all covered with shame because we have sinned against You.  We have not obeyed Your voice, walked in Your Truth, or been faithful to those teachings You have given us through Your servants and Your prophets.  But we believe and we know that You are merciful and compassionate, forgiving those who sin against You.

All of us in this nation stand guilty of transgressing your Word.  We have turned aside from Your ways, and have refused to obey Your voice.  So the curses that You proclaimed through Your prophet Moses have come upon us, and You have fulfilled Your word spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us the calamities You foretold.  As Moses prophesied, this calamity has come upon us; yet, we have not entreated the favor of our God by turning from our sins and listening to Your Truth.

And now, O Lord our God, You established this nation, but we have sinned and done that which is evil.  You have not treated us according to our sins, but according to Your righteousness and mercy.  We humbly beg You to turn away Your wrath from this nation and remember not our sins or the sins of those who have come before us.  

Please listen to the prayers of Your servants, who are called by Your Name, and hear our pleas for mercy.  Shine Your face upon us and look once again with favor on this land.  Incline Your ear and hear.  Open Your eyes and see the desolations that You have allowed to come into being and rest upon this nation.  We do not come before You in our own righteousness, but trusting in Your great mercy and compassion.

O Lord, hear; O Lord forgive!  We pray, attend to the petitions of Your people, and do not delay. We ask not for our sake alone, but for the sake of Your Holy Name.  Your people, who are called by Your Name, humbly pray, that we may have Your grace to seek Your face and, by that same grace turn from our wicked ways.  Then, O Lord, may You hear from heaven, and forgive our sin and heal our land.

Amen.

Holy Saturday – April 11, 2020

Read Mark 15:42-47

The message for today is that it’s never too late.  If we have gotten this far and have not recognized the great love that is made manifest in Mark’s Gospel, that is in the Word—Thy Word is Truth—now is the time to turn to Him, “and immediately” ask Him to renew His covenant with you.  The Good News of Holy Saturday is that the way to God is ALWAYS open.  The curtain has been torn in two.  The gates of hell have been destroyed.  He has led the captives to freedom.  Nothing stands between us and our God, except our own fear, reluctance, and disobedience.

The appointed reading today is not reflective of the events of Holy Saturday.  In the Apostle’s Creed, our baptismal statement of faith, we declare that after His Crucifixion, Jesus descended into hell.  The reading above is about Jesus being laid in the tomb.  And the other lessons appointed for this day are about rest.  But the Church teaches that Jesus did not rest on that day, rather “He descended into hell.”  We have this teaching from 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6  and Ephesians 4:8-10 among many others.  This is an important doctrine, that has sadly become lost or buried in our modern culture.  As King David sang in Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!”  The gates of hell have been broken, lifted up, and the King of Glory has come in.  Our Lord has completed His triumph.  He has conquered, sin and hell, and in His Resurrection “death is swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor. 15:54).

This is the Good News of Holy Saturday.  This is, as Mark declares in the first verse of his Gospel, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The rest of the story must be lived out in our lives.  Mark learned it, and lived it.  He knew the reconciling Love of Jesus.  And he has invited us to join him.

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Read John 13:36-38; 19:38-42

The first of these two Gospel lessons appointed for the daily office today is intended to be read in the morning; the second in the evening.  But for purposes of this meditation, I recommend that you read them together.  At the Mass of the Presanctified, or the Good Friday liturgy, the lesson appointed is John 19:1-37.  These two daily office readings nicely frame the Passion Gospel of the liturgy.

The first of the two lessons is the foretelling of Peter’s denial.  But what is interesting for our purposes is Peter’s contention that “I will lay down my life for you.”  In the second reading it is two Jewish leaders who claim the crucified body of Jesus.  None of our Lord’s disciples is there, and despite Peter’s assurance, he is conspicuously absent.  

Yesterday we read that Jesus gave us His Body and His Blood.  For us to truly receive Him, He had to die.  Without the crucifixion, there could be no resurrection.  His sacrifice upon that cross was not simply for Peter and His disciples.  It wasn’t just for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  It wasn’t just for that generation, but for us and all who have come before us and will come after us.  His death was for all mankind, even those who had lived before the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

In the latter of the two readings for today we read that “because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”  In John’s timeline it was the day of preparation for the Passover.  But what is significant for us is that there is an implied invitation for us to prepare for receiving the Resurrected Jesus.  As we will see tomorrow, Jesus descends into hell and releases the captives.  He will yet rise from the tomb and greet the women and the disciples.  Will we be ready to greet Him, too?

Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Read Mark 14:12-25

What can we say about Maundy Thursday and the institution of the Holy Eucharist?  We celebrate this event, not only every year during Holy Week, we celebrate this event every time we gather together to break bread.  There are those who would argue that we do “The Lord’s Supper” too often, that it loses its meaning, and has become too familiar.  Thus we do it by rote.  If this were simply a memorial meal, that might be true.  But what our Lord instituted on the night that He was betrayed was a Covenant, a Sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given in His Love for us that we might be nourished in Him by the Real Presence of His Body and His Blood!

As is his wont in the presentation of this Gospel, Mark is spare in his detail.  He gives us the most simple, most straightforward description of the Last Supper.  He stuck to the facts.  He related that when Jesus consecrated the bread He said, “Take; this is my body.”  And when He gave them the wine, He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  Every time we partake of the bread and the wine of the Holy Eucharist, we not only remember our Lord’s last meal with His disciples, we re-call His Sacramental Presence.  And at every Eucharist He renews the Covenant in His Blood.  When we celebrate, He truly comes again in power, in grace, and in His all-encompassing Love.  

What more can we say about this Feast of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist?  We cannot add to it, because it is a limitless gift.  But we would be highly remiss if we tried to take anything away from it.  He gave us His Body and His Blood as the covenantal grace and hope for all mankind.  It is THE sacrament of His Real Presence. 

Wednesday of Holy Week – April 8, 2020

Read Mark 12:1-11

Once again Jesus speaks to a crowd which has gathered around Him.  “And he began to speak to them in parables.”  This time, though, it is not a teaching lesson, rather an illustration for the Jewish leaders of the deception under which they are living and ruling.  The scope of the parable is enlightening for those who were schooled in the Old Covenant.  Isaiah laid the foundation for understanding this parable in the fifth chapter of his book of prophecy, and that would not have been missed by the elders.  For Isaiah, “the vineyard…is the house of Israel,” and Jesus borrows that image for His parable.  There is a hedge, a pit for the wine press, and a tower, just like in Isaiah’s song.  And the Lord says that the owner (God) “let it out to tenants.”

When the Lord sent servants—the faithful judges and righteous kings, the prophets and John the Baptist—looking for the fruits of righteousness and repentance, they were beaten and killed.  Last of all God has sent His beloved Son.  “He came to His own, but His own would not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Sadly, Jesus points out, they mistakenly believe that the inheritance of the kingdom will be theirs if they kill the Son. By this, our Lord foreshadows His death.

Even ifthey were blind and deaf to the meaning of the parable, Jesus quotes from a Messianic Psalm:  “Have you not read this scripture: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (118:22)”  Though the Son may be rejected by His own people, the Father will exalt Him to the place of glory at His right hand.  And that will be “marvelous in our eyes.”

It is the very next night that this prophetic parable began to be fulfilled.  Let us look to this Cornerstone, for upon Him the Kingdom rests.  He is our Rock and our Salvation.

Tuesday of Holy Week – April 7, 2020

Read Mark 11:27-33

After the cleansing of the Temple, those in “authority” are offended.  They ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  It is a rhetorical question, because they already “know” the answer!  Jesus is not a priest, nor even of the Levitical tribe.  Levites were the recognized authority in matters relating to the Temple.  He is not a scribe.  The scribes were the “accredited” teachers—the true rabbis.  And neither was Jesus an elder, that is a member of the Sanhedrin.  They were the court of judges who ruled on all matters relating to the Jewish community.  Jesus, in effect, had overruled every recognized authority by cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers.  From the perspective of the Jewish elite Jesus had no authority in the Temple or the wider community.

But Jesus is a good Jew.  He answers their rhetorical question with one of His own: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  Like any rhetorical question, the answer should be obvious.  It was from heaven, but the “authorities” cannot go there, for “they were afraid of the people.”  St. John Chrysostom summarizes the situation for us, saying, “Because they were crafty and said, ‘We do not know,’ He did not say, ‘Neither do I know,’ rather ‘Neither will I tell you.’…And how was it that they did not say the baptism was of men?  ‘They feared the people.’  Do you see their perverse heart?  In every case they despise God and do all things for the sake of men.  On account of men they were not willing to believe in Christ.  As a result, all of their evils were engendered to them.”

Mark has already shown us the dangers of following the crowd (meditations in Week 3).  And here Jesus offers a presage of the crowds frenzy on Good Friday.  Will we stand on the word of the “authorities”?  The word of the crowd?  Or the Word of Truth?  Thy Word is Truth!

Monday of Holy Week – April 6, 2020

Read Mark 11:12-26

In the tradition of the Church, the first three days of Holy Week recount the anointing of Jesus on Monday, the cleansing of the Temple on Tuesday, and what came to be known as “Spy Wednesday,” our Lord’s betrayal by Judas, on Wednesday.  But in keeping with the readings of the daily lectionary, the cleansing of the Temple, is the one designated for today.  We will go with that.

It is interesting that Mark encapsulates his account of the cleansing within the only miracle that Jesus does during His final week.  The miracle of the fig tree is not only the sole miracle during Passion Week, it is the only “judgment” miracle recorded in the Gospels.  It has always seemed unreasonable to me that Jesus would curse the tree because it had no fruit when, as Mark records, “it was not the season for figs.”  But fig trees do produce what are called taksh, which are green pods and appear on the branches before the leaves.  Peasants would often pick the trees clean before the fruit had an opportunity to bud.  It may be that Jesus was looking for the taksh, but the pilgrims coming to the feast beat Him to it.  Regardless, Peter must have related the story to Mark, and most probably applied it to the event in the Temple.  The fig tree has often been seen as a symbol of Israel (cf. Joel 2:21-23), and the cursing of the fig tree by our Lord was symbolic of the inability of Israel to produce fruits of righteousness at the dawn of the Messianic age.

The Lord not only gave the parabolic message of judgment, He also used the encounter with the tree as a teaching tool.  When Peter noted the withered tree the following morning, Jesus replied, “Have faith in God.”  That is an interesting response to Peter’s exclamation.  Jesus, is less interested in their understanding of what happened to the tree than He is in helping them understand and believe in the power of prayer.  He says, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 

Holy Week: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Read Luke 19:41-48

The Gospel of Luke makes nice bookends for our meditations.  We heard from Luke on Ash Wednesday, and as we begin the Passion Week we hear from the good physician once again.  Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers to record our Lord weeping over Jerusalem.  Jesus wept “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

St. John tells us in the prologue of his Gospel, that “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14).  And Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  “Thy Word is Truth” (John 17:17). The Word of Truth came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11).  It broke the heart of the Lord.  He knew what their rejection of Him would mean.  Jesus wept.

As we enter the events of this Holy Week, what are the things that break your heart?  Are they the things that break the heart of God, or are they the more selfish things, things that we want but cannot have for ourselves?  As we look at our city and those who live here, what is our response?  Do we weep for those who do not know God?  Is our heart broken with the things that break the heart of God?

Mark has shown us through the action sequences, the parables, and the teachings of Jesus, how our Lord has brought restoration and redemption to all who turn to Him in faith.  Now, as we move with Mark from these early chapters into the Passion of our Lord, we make the transition with him from personal redemption to our Lord’s sacrifice for the salvation of all mankind.

Jesus is standing on the Mount of Olives.  He is gazing at the east gate of Jerusalem.  He knows what is ahead.  He has accurately predicted His Passion.  Will you go with Him now?  To Calvary?

Saturday of 5 Lent – April 4, 2020

Read Mark 10:46-52

Mark was apparently not a strong literary type.  Greek may have been a second language for him, and the example of his writing found in the Gospel did not show evidence of great learning on his part.  Compared to Luke’s Greek, in both the Gospel and Acts, Mark’s Greek is grammatically simple.  He was less interested in setting out a well constructed literary treatise than he was in faithfully transcribing Peter’s reminiscences, and presenting the Good News as he had experienced it.  So, it is interesting to see how the Holy Spirit inspired so much of what we have read through these five weeks.  And as we come to the conclusion of chapter 10 and Mark’s introduction to the Passion, it is interesting to see the story in today’s reading as a fine literary transition, as well as an uplifting story of our Lord’s healing power at work.

As Jesus and the disciples leave Jericho, they pass by Blind Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a model of Christian conversion.  He exemplifies persistence, opposition to the crowd, and giving up everything to follow Jesus.  When Bartimaeus first hears that it is Jesus leading the crowd passing by, he cries out to him.  The crowd rebuked the blind man and told him to be quiet.  But “he shouted all the more.”  He was persistent, and he wouldn’t be influenced by the crowd.  Then he made his most telling commitment. “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.”  His cloak was laid out before him to collect money tossed to him by passers-by.  That represented his entire living.  He threw everything he had away to come to Jesus.

Bartimaeus came to Jesus and immediately he received his sight and followed our Lord on the way.  What a good transition to the Way of Holy Week.  Our Lord has prepared us.  He is asking that we lay aside our cloak and follow Him.  Knowing that Calvary is ahead, will we, with Jesus, say “Not my will, but Thine be done”?

Friday of 5 Lent – April 3, 2020

Read Mark 10:32-45

Many modern commentators claim that the details in this third Passion prediction hint at a transplanted Passion narrative, that Jesus could not have known that kind of detail before the fact.  That seems unlikely.  There really would be no reason for Mark to elaborate on Peter’s recounting of these events.  As Jesus and His band of disciples drew nearer Jerusalem He would want them to be more fully prepared for what was to follow.  He would not hide  the details, even though it would be uncomfortable for them.

When the Lord takes us out of our comfort zone, it is because He has something better planned for us.  The journey to Jerusalem, and on to Calvary, is an important one for all of us to make.  It is the test of our profession of faith.  But, like James and John, we don’t really want to go there.  We want assurances.  The brothers make a selfish request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Their request flows from the springs of their will.  They want to be near to the Lord, but their hearts reveal the selfishness of that desire.  “We want You to do OUR will.”

The Lord has just lovingly explained how He is going to Jerusalem to fulfill the Father’s will.  Nevertheless, Jesus will have His own deep distress as He fights with self will.  “Not my will, but thine be done,” He will pray in Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).  He wants to offer Himself as the sacrifice that will bring life to James and John.  But the brothers cannot receive that love in the context given.  They want to avoid the unpleasantness of the suffering and death.

The Word of God is not always comforting; it is occasionally a harsh word.  But His Word is always given in love.  How we respond reveals our heart toward His love.  Is our prayer, as Jesus taught, “Thy will be done,” or “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”?  We may hear, as the brothers did, an uncomfortable word.  How will we respond?