Today being Palm Sunday, we are entering into Holy Week, the last week of the Season of Lent. The word Lent is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘spring’ and in the Northern Hemisphere, the period of Lent falls within spring time. This is a 40-day period that starts on Ash Wednesday and runs up to the eve of Easter Sunday. Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events – Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai when receiving the Law from God (Exod 24:18); the prophet Elijah travelled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb to encounter God (1 Kgs 19:8); Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness to prepare for His public ministry which would eventually lead him to the cross. The church sets aside this season in her calendar to deliberately remember, proclaim and respond to the atoning death of Jesus.
What should our appropriate response be as we enter into the last week of Lent? Let me suggest 3’R’s – Reflect, Repent and Rest. Lent is a time of reflection, a time of soul-searching, a time to re-examine our lives and take stock of life’s situation. I would like to introduce you to a spiritual discipline originated with a Jesuit priest who lived in the 16th century. His name is Ignatius of Loyola. The spiritual practise is called Examen. In this exercise, we reflect on two questions at the end of each day:
For the most grateful moment(s), you can scan the day for those events, experiences, encounters and conversations that come as good gifts to you that should stir your gratitude. It could be a good Samaritan who came to you to render practical help; it could be someone who cared enough to give you a listening ear; it could be someone who loved you enough to be willing to tell you the truth even when it hurts; it could be an incident where God used you as a channel of his love – you were the Samaritan, you gave that listening ear, you spoke that word of truth; it could also be blessings in the midst of a crisis. No matter how hard and troubling a day may have been there are always moments of grace if we have eyes to see them. As we identify such moments, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
For the least grateful moment(s), these are when you fail to live up to God’s calling, when you choose against the way of love, when you pass by and refuse to get involved. It could be failing to offer your seat in the MRT for an elderly; it could be the lack of self-control over your lips so that you gossip or slander; it could be letting your pride rear its ugly head; it could be putting self-interests above the interests of others; it could be failing to stand up for justice and righteousness; it could be the unwillingness to forgive. We search for those times when we refuse to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, when we do not allow the Spirit to work in and through us. As we find these “refusals”, we hold them up to the Lord in confession and repentance.
That takes me to the second ‘R’ – repent. This has to do with setting right what has gone wrong, and take preventive measures so as not to repeat the same mistakes. We must first of all recognise how detestable our sins are before God. The cruel cross will serve as a stark reminder. The Triune Godhead had never been separated until that first Good Friday when God the Son bore the sins of the whole world, across time and space, upon himself and became the most detestable, most abominable and most disgusted thing on earth so much so that God the Father had to turn his face away. No wonder Jesus cried out: ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27.46) Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have been saved by grace through faith. If Christ had gone to such great lengths to purchase our salvation, to redeem us from the pit of condemnation and to reconcile us with God, we should detest sin as much as God detests it.
In fact we are now a new creation, our old self has been crucified with Christ and we no longer live but Christ lives in us (Galatians 2.20). ‘We are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6.11). You and I know that we will not be perfect on this side of heaven. How then are we dead to sin? Well, it means that we are no longer under the bondage of sin; while previously our natural inclination is to sin and we are powerless under its snare, now we can say ‘no’ to temptation and instead of us making a practice of sinning, we practise righteousness (1 John 3.4-10). However, when we do sin, we do not need to despair because our salvation is already secured in Christ. What we need to do is to confess and repent. In confession, we acknowledge that we have deviated from God’s will and we want to bring our will in alignment with his. In confession, we acknowledge that what we have done is wrong in God’s eyes and we want to say ‘sorry’. In confession, we follow the prayer that Jesus has taught us: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ (Matthew 6.12). Confession must go hand in hand with repentance – how we can turn from sin. Each time when I sinned, after I had confessed my sin, I would go through in my mind what I would do differently if I were to be given another chance. If there were practical ways to right the wrong or to prevent myself from falling into that particular sin again, I would pray for grace to follow through with concrete actions. This spiritual discipline of confession and repentance is a means of grace for us to be transformed into Christ-likeness while we work out our salvation. It concerns our sanctification rather than our justification for we have already been made right with God through the atoning death of Christ.
Some people are paranoid about not being able to remember every sin; they live in fear of forfeiting their salvation if they miss out on the confession of one sin. Others fear that God has given up on them because they have done something really wicked which even they find difficulty in forgiving themselves. There is no sin too big that God cannot forgive. We do not believe in Satan’s lie that God has lost patience with us and he is sick and tired of our broken promises and we are beyond hope. These are all BIG FAT lies! This is because our salvation is fully secured in Christ, period! And we can rest in this truth, which is the final ‘R’ that I would like to highlight. Jesus says: ‘Come to me those who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28). We can rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. We can rest in the reality of the empty tomb. We can rest in the promise that our sins have all been cleansed and we are made whiter than snow. We can rest in the hope that even though we have made a mess of our lives, as we confess our sins and repent, God can still work out his very good purposes in and through us and for his glory.
As you journey through this Holy Week, do practise these 3’R’s. Take time to reflect on your life as you allow the Spirit and Word of God speak to you; if you are convicted of a sin, humbly come before our merciful God in confession and repentance; and enjoy the rest that Jesus promises to all who come to him.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
April 9, 2017