Lent is a time for repent and hope

March 17, 2011

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. -- Mark 1:15

Two powerful words capture Lent for me: repent and hope. Repent has gotten a bad rap in modern parlance. It conjures up visions of hand wringing, pseudo-sanctimony. Yet the essence is far from the caricature. From the Latin it literally is a call to "re-think" not to grovel. And in our super-charged, fast-paced world, "re-thinking" may in fact be the very first thinking we ever get a chance to do.

Christ commands us to repent. But he does it sparingly -- once in Matthew, twice in Mark, three times in Luke and not once directly in John. Yet this "re-thinking" is what puts us in touch with the grace of salvation from which all goodness springs. Without it we are moral zombies; looking out for ourselves, but never into ourselves, where God waits ever-ready to help us make sense of it all and find the peace we constantly, thoughtlessly flail about for.

Having lived through so many Lents, we are tempted to put our journey on auto-pilot, mumble a few mea culpas and expect Easter any day now. But, what a waste. Lent was made to be embraced, not to be endured. One step in addiction recovery is "making a fearless moral inventory." It should be the essence of Lenten repentance for all of us who are addicted to ourselves – our pride, our opinions, our convenience and our perception of manifest superiority to all the obviously flawed people in our lives. And all the while God waits within to grant us peace in exchange for honesty and acceptance. Repent. Re-think. That’s what Lent is for.

When we repent we have reason to hope. We have flushed out all the delusional nonsense and made room for joy. But the real meaning of hope, like repent, is often misunderstood. Today hope is typically equated with passive wishful thinking, rather than the confident, willful thinking of scripture. In Hebrew's Paul instructs us: …hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. That hope is neither vague, nor naïve. It is robust and confident, not languid and timid. The same hope that comforted the martyrs will surely banish our petty fears -- if we let it. But that will take courage -- the moral courage to recognize and reject our cozy, spiritual lethargy, to re-connect with a loving God, to re-think our priorities, to re-focus our energies and to re-direct our lives. Repent and hope. That’s what Lent is for.

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