There are more people found in the church for Ash Wednesday Service than for any other weekday services during the whole Lenten Season except for Good Friday and/or Maundy Thursday. However, we have a tendency to quickly forget the words and prayers we have said about ourselves during the Ash Wednesday service. For example, King David’s Psalm 51 is often part of that service and we readily say his words in our prayers. This Psalm highlights our acknowledgement of guilt and sinfulness:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
So you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51: 3-5).
However, by the end of that week we forget what we said about ourselves. We forget what we had repented about and asked God’s forgiveness for. We get busy with the Lenten activities of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and so on, without realizing that the key element of the Lenten season—repentance—has been dropped somewhere along the way.
Soon after coming out of his forty days fast in the wilderness, Jesus Christ, began his ministry by calling people to repent:
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1: 14-15; cf. Matthew 3: 2).
After his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ sent his disciples out to evangelize the whole world and their commission was to preach repentance (Luke 24: 47).
At the inauguration of the Church and its mission, on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter concluded his message by exhorting people to repent:
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2: 38-39).
In the parable of the so-called “Prodigal Son” (it’s actually about the “prodigal” Father!), when the younger son came to himself, he says,
“I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’” (Luke 15: 18-19).
Most stories of heroes of faith in the Bible are largely the stories of those who learned to repent, who were able to say, “I will get up and go to my father!”
Thus, repentance is one of the key elements of a renewed life with God. The Lenten season gives us an opportunity to repent. It is at the point of our repentance that God finds a lost person and reaches out to him or her in love and grace. It is here that God embraces us as the father who patiently waited for his “lost son,” to forgive us, and to shower us with his extravagances. Repentance, therefore, is a demand laid upon a follower of Christ which goes beyond just one solemn service at the beginning of Lent. Let us admit, repentance is also one of the hardest things to do for anyone. It is very difficult to say sorry, to truly turn from our sins, and to truly change. However, if you and I are willing to pause, introspect and repent, we will enjoy God’s close fellowship better than anyone else who refuses to repent. Amen.