Holy Week: The Gift of Repentance

Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  — Luke 5:31-32

I hope that these meditations have made obvious that repentance is a gift.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us resulting in an act that flows out of us.  Although it is our act, it does not originate from within us.  In fact, in our naturally stubborn, rebellious hearts the whole notion of repentance is foreign.  It must be granted to us by God Himself in order to be real.  We could not even conceive of such a thing if left to ourselves.  Instead, we would come up with all sorts of excuses for our sin and would point our depraved fingers at everyone else.  But by His grace, God grants repentance to His adopted children whom He patiently disciplines: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19).  For even when our minds grow weary and our hearts doubt the promises of God, He remains faithful to His promises and patient toward His people “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

It is a gift because we cannot do it without God’s aid.  This is why Peter was flabbergasted to see Gentiles repenting.  It meant that God had indeed been working in the hearts of those who had previously been considered beyond His reach.  And God is continually seeking and searching for His lost sheep.  He uses multiple means to call us and bestow on us His gift of repentance.

And though, as this Holy Week reminds us, we have already been forgiven of our sins through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are called to continue in our repentance so that we might become holy and blameless.  It is a call to live perpetually in God’s grace, an on-going work of God in us.  So let us look as some specific ways that God calls us and gives us the grace of repentance.  And let Him challenge us to not only seek but accept the gift of repentance.


Saturday of 5 Lent

April 13, 2019

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” And after this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.”  —John 21:18-19

During my sabbatical in 2013, I visited St. Margaret Mary Church in Swannanoa.  The priest preached a sermon entitled, “Unpack for the Journey”.  His basic message was that we carry many worldly burdens with us in our daily walk, and in order to follow Jesus, we need to let go of those.  In the scripture quote above, Jesus is telling Peter to do just that.  If we are going to follow Jesus, we must let go of the things that bind us to this world, and let Him gird us, fill our backpack with things of His choosing, and follow Him.

Bishop John Holloway used to preach that every member of the CEC needs to have a valid, up-to-date passport.  It is one of the ways that we can be ready to respond quickly to God’s call.  If He calls us to a mission overseas, will we be ready?  You say, “But I’m not called to be a missionary.”  Jesus tells Peter in the verse above, “when you are old…another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”  Wait a minute.  Do I not have a say in this?  You have free will, but if your will is not truly submitted to Christ then you, not Christ, are still in control.  St. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  That is the goal: total submission to Christ.  And it is also a process—a process of unpacking, letting go of our will and submitting to Christ.  None of us are there — yet!  But by His grace we can grow into the fulness of relationship with Him.

Peter repented.  He had this profound interaction with Jesus.  And through this encounter he was fully restored to right relationship  with His Lord, and that gave him the courage to accept the call.  Will you accept the call?  Will you unpack for the journey?

Friday of 5 Lent

April 12, 2019

Lord you know everything —John 21:17

Peter knows in his heart that he loves Jesus.  But he knows there is more, there is always more that he can do to show his love.  He may not be good at showing it, but the love is there.  And Jesus is capable of discerning that love because He knows everything.

For the vast majority of us in the Church, we have grown up knowing that Jesus loves us.  We learned it as a song when we were young: “Jesus loves me this I know…”  But for many of us we really don’t have a clue how much we love Jesus.  Like Peter we can argue with the Lord decrying His questioning of our love.  Nevertheless, again like Peter, we know that our expression of love for Him is not what it could be.  There is more that we can do.

Each time Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” Peter answered, “You know!”  And the third time, in his grief over the questioning and the use of the familiar verb phileo, Peter calls upon Christ Himself as witness.  We too have failed and faltered in our love for Jesus.  But the good news is that Jesus knows.  He is always aware of our childlike attempts to convey that love to Him.

On our refrigerator at home there is a paper that my granddaughter, Ruth, with the help of her mother, prepared for Miranda.  It is titled, “All About My Oma”.  It was given to Miranda on Mother’s Day as a sign of love from granddaughter to grandmother.  There are some errors in fact on it.  For example, it declares that Oma “is 2 years old.”  Regardless, this document is prominently displayed in our home because it is a testament to Ruth’s love for her Oma.  

God has our refrigerator art on display in heaven.  He knows everything, even the things that we don’t get quite right.  He knows our love, and He wants us to know how much we love Him.  When we do, we will know there is more that we can do to show that love.  That will help us to grow in our love for Him.

Thursday of 5 Lent

April 11, 2019

[Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” —John 21:17

Why was Peter grieved?  In verse 17, Jesus uses a different word for love than he used in His first two questions.  In verses 15 and 16, He asks Peter, “Do you love (agapao – the verb form of  agape) Me?”  But in verse 17, the last request, He asks, “Do you love (phileo – brotherly love) Me?”  Sadly, this gets lost in the English translation because English has only one word for love.

In the first two instances Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him with an unconditional, spiritual love.  This is the love that we have received by the Holy Spirit.  But the third time that Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, He uses ‘phileo’, which speaks of affection, fondness, and liking the other.  This is a relational, affectionate love.  He is asking Peter, “Can we be friends, too?  Can we have a brotherly friendship in our love?”  He wants to know if Peter loves Him not just because of who He is as God, but rather in intimate companionship.  He asked it this way the third time because He wanted to know that Peter cared about Him as a person.  Peter may have thought that this was a lesser form of love, but Jesus wanted Peter to know what true reconciliation looks like.  Real, complete reconciliation requires both kinds of love.

Jesus wants to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with each one of us, a relationship that goes beyond the relationship of servant and Lord.  If we keep the Lord at arms length, and worship Him as God Incarnate, but we don’t take time to just sit with Him, listen, and spend quality time with Him, then we are missing out on the fulness of relationship with Him.  

If we are honest, our relationship with Jesus often takes a back seat to our other relationships and our daily tasks and routines.  But Jesus is asking, “Do you love Me?”  Do you phileo Jesus?

Wednesday of 5 Lent

April 10, 2019

Yes, Lord, you know I love you —John 21:16

On the night before He was betrayed, the Lord gave to His disciples three commandments:  “Do this in remembrance of Me,” “wash one another’s feet,” and “love one another.”  All three of these are communal in nature.  We break bread together in Communion.  We minister to one another in washing each other’s feet.  And the final command was one Jesus called a “new” commandment.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  And then He gives the reason to do this:  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  One gets the impression that Jesus wants us to work together in love for Him and each other.

Peter was arguing that He did love Jesus.  It is an argument that I often hear—especially from those who absent themselves from communal worship.  But how does Jesus know we love Him?  If we do what He commands (John 14:15,23).  And what does He command?  That we commune together at His table, minister to one another’s needs, and love one another as He has loved us.  It is all so very simple.  At least in theory.  Practice is something else entirely.

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you…”  Then “tend My sheep”.  Love one another.  There are some basics described in Scripture for expressing our love for one another.  We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).  When we become estranged we are to reconcile  (Matt. 18:15-17; 5:23-24).  And we are to honor our brothers and sisters, thinking more highly of them than of ourselves (Rom. 12:3-10).  Maintaining relationship with Christ is essential for these things to be possible.  We are fallen creatures, and selfish by that nature.  But with the gift of repentance we can overcome ourselves and put on Christ, that we may learn to love one another as Christ loves.

Tuesday of 5 Lent

April 9, 2019

Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep —John 21:15,16,17 

Jesus’ response to each of Peter’s affirmations was a command to take care of the flock of Christ.  It was a challenge to the disciple (one who follows) to become an apostle (one who is sent to serve), to look outside of himself and his desires, to focus on others, to feed the sheep.  What was the measure of Peter’s love for Christ?  Jesus gave him the measuring rod of that love:  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  “If a man loves me, he will keep my word…” (14:23). “If you love Me, Peter,” Jesus was saying, “you will do what I command: Feed my sheep.”

Many years ago, I had a parishioner ask me, “Am I going to go to heaven?”  It is not an uncommon question.  As we talked I tried to gently point her toward changing the focus of her concern to those outside the faith.  But it is difficult to build desire to win over those who do not know Christ when we are not convinced of our own salvation.  How can I minister Christ’s love if I am not abiding in Him?  We are to love Christ, as Peter was commanded, by tending the sheep, focusing outside of ourselves.  When we do that, then the focus of our evangelistic efforts becomes Christ Himself.  We can begin to seek and find Christ in the other, ministering to Him in them.  Jesus Himself said, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…when you did it to one of the least” (Matt. 25:36,40).  The focus must always be on Christ, and especially as we see Him in the other.

Let me conclude with this short poem which has been quoted a number of different ways by various saints throughout history.    “O my Lord, if I seek You from fear of hell, send me to hell.  If I worship You in hope of heaven, keep me from heaven.  But if I love You for who You are alone, let me dwell with You eternally.”  May we always love and worship Christ for Himself alone.  May we seek and find Him in every person we meet.

Monday of 5 Lent

April 8, 2019

Do you love me more than these? —John 21:15

In the verse above, Jesus is reaching out to Peter, across the divide that the disciple created when he denied our Lord.  He is telling Peter that the relationship that they have was based in mutual love and can only be restored when Peter turns around and again abides in His love.  He reminds Peter in this simple question that the things He promised to all of the disciples the night of His betrayal are still available to those who are penitent.  He said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 15:10).  It is an invitation to relationship.  He is offering Peter the gift of repentance.  “Take your eyes off of this world and look to Me!”

The Rule of St. Benedict begins and ends, and is shot through, with exhortation to make Christ the focus of our every act, our every thought.  Benedict says that among the “tools” that we as Christians use in our spiritual walk, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else” (RB 4:20-21).  And in the last instructional chapter he exhorts us to “good zeal”, saying, “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ…” (RB 72:11). 

During my last sabbatical I was confronted in very much the same way as was Peter.  I was praying, and expressing my concern for the members of this parish.  And as I prayed the Lord asked me, “Do you love these more than Me?”  It brought me up short, and I had to answer honestly, “Yes, Lord, I think I do.”  After confessing my sin of putting another (many others) ahead of my love for Him, He began to show me that I can best love my wife, my son, my parishioners, and anyone else by loving Christ above all.  For if I am in Christ Jesus, then I am “abiding” in His love. Only then can I love those around me with Christ’s love.   

Is there anyone or anything that you have “preferred” to Christ?