A refection by Christina Brennan Lee written for February 11, 2024.
Our first month of a new year has ended as the second begins with the “leap” of an extra day at its end. The Season of Epiphany concludes this Sunday with a grand celebration as preparation for the beginning of Lent on Wednesday, February 14. When I realized that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day, a thought slowly took hold. What if we begin to connect Lent with Love?
We hear the words “repent” and “penitence” as Lent begins but what has that to do with love?
Every Sunday we confess that we have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. “Penitence” is defined, on page 857 in the Book of Common Prayer, as when we confess our sins and make restitution where possible, with the intention to amend our lives. On page 848, “Sin” is defined as the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.
In other words we turn away from God, we aren’t loving our neighbors ~ especially “those” neighbors with whom we seriously disagree in earth-bound matters ~ and, we aren’t loving ourselves. I think we don’t love ourselves because we’ve been taught early that loving our self is conceited or prideful. I also think that when we dislike someone it might be because we see something in that person that we don’t like about ourselves, and it’s so much easier and more self-satisfying to put that un-love onto someone else.
To begin this reflection again, if sin is essentially turning away from God, let’s turn toward God in penitence as a change of mind and heart, then turn toward ourselves and our neighbors. We are to seek and follow Jesus our Christ’s command in Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:30-31, and Luke 10:27.
And no, we don’t have to embrace everyone as our new best friends accepting all that others are and do.
We are to look through our own lenses of how we perceive others and apply that perception to how we see ourselves through the forgiveness of Jesus and the grace of God. Often, I believe, it is harder to forgive ourselves than others.
Lent offers the opportunity to work within ourselves to strengthen what we say we believe. We can begin to change our automatic assumptions and presumptions about ourselves and others; to stop, look, and examine them in our mind’s eye. It’s not an easy process to reconcile ourselves and our actions within the context of a difficult and often dangerous world and 40 days is just a small toe on the calendar of our lifetimes.
We must consciously begin again and again.
I pray that beginning this year I/We start to accept that if we are loved and forgiven, so are those we find it most difficult to love and forgive, and, that the Love of God is for me/us and “them.”
We can still support organizations and causes that work to overcome and counteract the actions of others we believe are harmful. We can still dislike the actions of others without demonizing them as long as we are taking personal stock of our own thoughts and actions. The grace-filled love of Christ Jesus is for ALL of us and ALL of us are called to love All of us, remembering if at first we don’t succeed, keep trying! Begin again and again and again…
The following is a prayer written by the Rev. Elizabeth Wheatley, Christ Church, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi in 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. My late husband and I met her as we worked for a week with the Lutheran-Episcopal Community Services of Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2004. Use this prayer for yourself using “me” instead of “you” and then pray it with “you” for all “those” others you are finding difficult to love:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May God give you:
Grace not to sell yourself short.
Grace to risk something big for something good.
Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.
May God take your minds and think through them.
May God take your lips and speak through them.
May God take your hands and work through them.
May God take your hearts and set them on fire.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.