As part of an ongoing series of Lenten Reflections, I asked Rector Jim Basinger, Pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church, to share his thoughts.
The liturgical year is all about the gospel. It is centered on the life, death, resurrection and soon return of the Lord Jesus. As there are different aspects of the gospel that can be explored, so in the liturgical seasons of the year, we spotlight one aspect of the gospel without neglecting the others.
The Lenten season is that time in the liturgical calendar when we focus our attention on the gospel response – we do so by “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
To be sure, our response to the gospel is not the gospel. The gospel is the offer of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, a response of trust and repentance is needed in order to enter into that new life and a continuing response of trust and repentance is needed to enjoy that new relationship which God has freely given to us through his Son and which he maintains through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Several aspects of our gospel response which the Book of Common Prayer mentions are self-examination, prayer and repentance. How do we go about examining ourselves? And why is repentance so important?
First, one way to focus on our gospel response is by reading and praying through the 10 Commandments. The commandments begin with the gospel (I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery) and call for a response. They were given to help a redeemed people live out their lives as God’s people. As J.I. Packer has put it: The way to be truly happy is to be truly human, and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly. The 10 Commandments lay out for us what a godly life looks like.
Australian evangelist John Chapman recalls a conversation with a woman who claimed she lived “by keeping the 10 commandments.” Chappo said, “You mean – the ones that say ‘you shall have no other God before me?” She immediately responded, “Is that one of them?” Ignorance of the commandments is common place.
As we look at each of the commandments, we need to ask the Lord to help us examine our own lives, and as we do, we will see how far we have departed from the life which pleases the Lord and which makes us ‘truly human.’
Take the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” It’s easy to say, ‘well, no I haven’t.’ But let’s examine this commandment a little more carefully. Several questions emerge as examine ourselves. Do I love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength? Is following God my absolute top priority? Do I give my worship exclusively to the true and living God? Am I zealous for God’s glory?
If not, (and who has loved God consistently in this way), then we are called to repentance (turning away from sin) and trust in Jesus Christ (accepting that in Christ we are forgiven). Repentance is a marvelous gift which means that we, by God’s grace, can turn back and that we can make progress in living as God’s people.
The Lenten season invites such self-examination. So, if we read carefully through Exodus 20.1-17 (the 10 Commandments), and begin a time of honest self-examination, we will find areas where we need to repent, and we also can experience the forgiving and liberating grace of our Lord.
Thank you Pastor Basinger for your insightful words of reflection about the significance of this Lenten period in the care and keeping of our spiritual centers.