Easter: The Story that Shapes all Stories

 

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Holy Week for Newbies

A few years back an international student from China named Peter spent his senior year of high school living with us. Growing up in an atheist country, Peter had no spiritual upbringing except to think that religion was something for silly people. After about six months of living with us (and attending church out of respect), we took a road trip to California. Peter was staring at the passing desert when he turned and blurted, “I think every hero movie is really just a metaphor for Jesus!”

I thought about Peter’s insight and realized that whether we are talking Lord of the Rings, Raiders, or Narnia; MIB, or the Matrix, an end of the world series streaming on Netflix or every Western ever, our epics are all variations on a theme. You can hear the deep voiced announcer on the trailer, “Dark forces hold the world in its’ grip. One man can deliver us. One solitary, misunderstood man.” And, just when all seems lost, a miraculous turn of events in the climactic showdown carries the day…and all is saved. And while this may have happened long, long ago, it was certainly not in a galaxy far, far away. The epics that captivate our imaginations all channel the same day: The day when God’s deliverer overcame the marshaled forces of evil, defeated the dark overlord, kicked down the gates of a prison called hell, and set a captive cosmos free.

Like a great movie, the timeline of the narrative can get complex …Time melds together: The victory may have been won, long, long ago, but it is a victory that transcends time, culture, and distance. It is a victory that is here. Now. Today.

But how does the resurrection of Jesus save us? Jesus making things right is called “atonement,” literally, “at-one-ment.” All Christians believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection saves humanity by making us “at one” with God. But how those actions save has been the subject of centuries of study and contemplation. It is a complicated thing for an infinite God to communicate an infinite rescue to finite humans. To do that takes analogy. And finite analogies, by definition, all fall short somewhere.

I live in Texas these days. Texans, as good Bible-belters, generally see the cross and empty tomb in terms of the substitution analogy. You know this analogy: God sends his son to take our punishment to satisfy the legal debt of sin to God. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that’s wrong. I am simply saying that it is an analogy, and like all analogies, incomplete. The analogy of Jesus’ death satisfying a debt was first explored by Anselm in the 11th century, and developed in the Reformation. It is biblical, occurring most clearly in Paul, Hebrews, and places like 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This analogy works for us; Jesus satisfying the law resonates with people under the rule of law. And with today’s student loan balances, I suspect the idea of debt forgiveness isn’t going away anytime soon either.

But a penalty paid for laws broken is not the only way to understand the atonement. The analogy with a profound place in the early church was the Passover (from Exodus 12). You hear echoes of this in the ancient Communion prayers when they quote 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” You see this in the Eucharistic prayer of St. Basil from the 4th century, “He is the true paschal lamb…” (“pascha” being Greek for Passover).

It is interesting that the Jewish calendar had a day dedicated to forgiving sins through sacrifice, the Day of Atonement. One might expect that Jesus would have chosen The Day of Atonement to lay down his life…but he didn’t. God set Jesus’ redeeming work in motion at the Passover.  The Passover.

Same lamb. Different purpose.

Both Jewish feasts involve sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement, the lamb’s death substituted for the sinner’s death. In Passover, a lamb also dies, but the lamb’s blood isn’t applied to the doorposts to cover sin, but rather to mark relationship. The blood notified the death angel to “pass over” as that family belonged to God. The Passover sacrifice had another ritual attached: The children of Israel ate the Passover lamb, a meal of belonging and communion. Then God used Moses to deliver His people from bondage and slavery through the Red Sea, from death to life.

The problem being solved at Passover was not of a lawless people, but a captive one. How Israel came to be in bondage was not addressed. God says to the captors, “Let my people go.” 

The New Testament describes Jesus as the New Moses who delivers God’s people. The people of God, are in bondage to sin and death, so Jesus intervenes. He forgives our sins and sets humanity free. At the last supper, Jesus becomes our New (wait for it) Passover meal, our meal of belonging and communion.

Unlike the Day of Atonement, the imagery in Passover is not legal. Sin is more than a legal infraction demanding God’s justice. Sin is primarily a heart condition: a life lived out of communion with God, the giver of life. We are not sinners because we do sinful stuff, we do sinful stuff because we seek life apart from God. Life apart from the source of life is death (Rom. 6:23 “the wages of sin”). Sin is deeper than a legal consequence (like getting a ticket for going too fast); sin is a natural consequence (like skidding off the road for going too fast).

In the Passover analogy…

God’s Son enters death, not to do our time, but to destroy our jail!

Jesus entered death itself to rescue us. In the resurrection, Christ defeats death, the last bondage. In the New Passover, God Himself becomes our sacrifice. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is not only called the lamb of God, but to make his point, John actually moves the date of the Last Supper so that Jesus is killed on Passover…literally becoming our Passover lamb, slain for God to proclaim, “Mine” over you and me.

So when Jesus burst from the tomb, leaving an angel to tell the women “go find the disciples and Peter,” (Mark 16:7) the message may have been mystifying, but it was unmistakable: Death is destroyed. The evil forces defeated.

Because of the resurrection, we can live in God’s presence as designed. We can assume the vocations we were created for in the garden; image bearers of the creator, Gospel proclaimers, kings and priests, representing God to the creation, and representing the creation to God. All of this makes Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments,” a great movie for Easter, because the Passover helps us understand what all our hero movies point to: the amazing news of Easter.

Peter understood that our great stories are but variations on a theme – riffs on the one great story, the life-changing story of stories. And you and I are not only invited to the premier, we hold complementary tickets for our family, friends and colleagues.

Living as stewards of the story

How do we live as the freed captives God declares us to be? (And as those with pockets full of tickets?)

 

First, Love God. Love God by rediscovering worship. Real worship. In worship we represent the creation to God.

Second, Love people: Love them by serving them. In service we represent God to the creation.

Prisoner, the hero has done his part. You have been released. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a proof of concept, or the trump card in the argument for God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a proclamation: We are delivered from the evil forces. The gates are open. The chains released. That is why when we hear, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” We cannot help but reply, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Chrystostom’s Paschal Sermon

Gangsta Easter

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The In Between Day

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Featured Image -- 3527Holy Saturday

Today is the quiet day.

In the church historic, the art for today portrays the Harrowing of Hell, Jesus making proclamation to the “spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-22), trampling the devil, destroying the gates of Hades, and leading Adam and the dead patriarchs from the tomb.

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Unfortunately, life is not lived from eternity backwards. We aren’t with Jesus as he, as the Apostle’s Creed says, descends “to the dead.”  We experience life from the perspective of those living between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Years ago, before being president of Eastern Seminary, Tony Campolo was a comedian. He had a memorable bit about the brilliance of Black preaching. He said something to the effect that while white pastors waxed eloquent for thousands of unmemorable words, Black preachers might build a sermon around a single sentence, but it would pack a spiritual punch. Campolo’s example was, “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’.” It may have been comedy, but it was terrific preaching. (a link of Campolo reprising bits of it 25 years later.) Unfortunately, we do not spend most of our lives in Good Friday, where the wheels come off our hopes and dreams. And we do not, most of us, spend the lion’s share of our life rejoicing in the power of God on Easter Sunday. We spend most of our days in between, in the day with no name, Saturday.

Good Friday is “good” because of Easter. But it gets hard to remember and difficult to believe a dawn is coming stuck in Saturday.

Years ago I read a book by Philip Yancey, an author I knew from excellent devotions he had written in a youth Bible. In the book he relayed a story of a friend’s grandmother who was buried in an Episcopal church yard under an ancient oak tree. She had a single word engraved on her tombstone: “Waiting”.

For God alone my soul in silence waits.” -Ps. 62:5

*If you are a fan of the preaching of the early church, click the photo below for a fantastic sermon attributed to Ephipanius…

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Good Friday: The axis of the cosmos

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Holy Week for Newbies

Have you ever wondered why an execution is known as, “Good” Friday?

The early church believed Jesus was crucified on March 25th. Further, they believed that, since re-creation happened on March 25th, the first day of creation must have happened that day as well. The early Christian’s view of time was much loftier than the later idea that time revolves around, Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord.” The original idea of Jesus’ followers was that the cross of Christ is the Axis Mundi, a timeless, still center to the universe, around which the entire cosmos rotates. It wasn’t that the earth is the center of the universe. It was that the cross is.

The cross of Christ is the Axis Mundi, a timeless, still center to the universe, around which the entire cosmos rotates.

I was a leader for 25 years with Young Life, a ministry that focusses on explaining Jesus to unchurched high school kids. Every semester leaders do a talk on the crucifixion. One Monday night 140 high school kids were shoehorned into my friend Rawleigh Grove’s living room as I gave the “cross talk.” Regardless of what you have heard of high school kids interest in the things of God, I can tell you that all over the globe more than a million high school kids will hang on every word of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion that night. When the message was finished kids sat in stunned silence. Except for a church kid named Josh. Josh jumped up, ran up to my face and said, “I’ve been in church my whole life. I have NEVER heard this. Why has no one has EVER told me this?”

Without thinking I said, “Maybe the church is so busy telling kids what not to do that we forget to tell you what Jesus did.” That was, it turns out, a pretty good answer. But Josh missed my accidental brilliance. “I don’t know about that,” He turned toward the door, “I’m going Starbucks.” He pulls open my friend’s front door and yells over his shoulder, “It’s the only place still open. I have to tell someone what Jesus did for them!” The door slammed and Josh was gone.

Knowing what Jesus did on the cross in detail, Josh connected the dots to what he did know, that Jesus went to the cross to satisfy a debt that only God could pay. That night Josh’s world began to pivot around a new axis: the immovable cross of Jesus Christ.

Centuries before Jesus lived, Isaiah passed along (in Isaiah 52 and 53) what God told us Jesus would someday do, why he would go to the cross. In John 19:30 Jesus tells us how it panned out – “It is finished.”

Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “I am finished.” He didn’t say, “Oops.” He didn’t say, “three cheers for the attempt.” Jesus said, “It is finished.

Jesus’ “it” was nothing less than the forgiveness of all that stands between us and the Father. All of the wandering, brokenness, and idolatry, taken in one awful fell swoop. The relationship of a lifetime for all eternity freely offered, the opportunity to join God’s high and holy mission to redeem a lost world. That is what Jesus finished on a hill called Golgotha on a cross between two thieves. And the universe rotates around that event.

Isaiah said,  “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows;” And Jesus thundered, “It is finished.”

“He was pierced for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities.” It is finished.

“His chastisement brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.” That too, finished.

“The iniquity of us all was laid on him.” Finished.

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Done.

“Cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.” That as well, finished.

“It was the will of the Lord to crush him; and put him to grief.” Finished.

Because of him “many shall be accounted righteous.” Finished.

“He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors.” Finished.

“He bore the sins of many.” And guess what, that, too, is finished.

And while the world grew quiet Satan stood in hell and clapped. And Jesus, with perhaps the faintest hint of a grin, shook his head, “uh, uh.” And said, “It. Is. Finished.” And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Why is an execution a “Good” Friday? Because, since that Friday, regardless of what you see or hear or think, the entire cosmos pivots on the axis of the victory won, won on the immovable, finished, cross of Jesus Christ.

*How does one commemorate Good Friday? Generally there are two ways: The Good Friday liturgy and by walking the Stations of the Cross. At St. John the Divine, Houston we have the Good Friday liturgy at noon, and stations at 7am, 1 and 6pm. We also have a very powerful 7-7:45 pm service called “The Service of Shadows” that is an adaptation of a medieval service that tells the story of Jesus’ suffering at the cross through Old Testament prophecy, chant, shared responses, and growing darkness.

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Good Friday: The axis of the cosmos

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Holy Week for Newbies

Have you ever wondered why an execution is known as, “Good” Friday?

The early church believed Jesus was crucified on March 25th. Further, they believed that, since re-creation happened on March 25th, the first day of creation must have happened that day as well. The early Christian’s view of time was much loftier than the later idea that time revolves around, Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord.” The original idea of Jesus’ followers was that the cross of Christ is the Axis Mundi, a timeless, still center to the universe, around which the entire cosmos rotates. It wasn’t that the earth is the center of the universe. It was that the cross is.

The cross of Christ is the Axis Mundi, a timeless, still center to the universe, around which the entire cosmos rotates.

I was a leader for 25 years with Young Life, a ministry that focusses on explaining Jesus to unchurched high school kids. Every semester leaders do a talk on the crucifixion. One Monday night 140 high school kids were shoehorned into my friend Rawleigh Grove’s living room as I gave the “cross talk.” Regardless of what you have heard of high school kids interest in the things of God, I can tell you that all over the globe more than a million high school kids will hang on every word of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion that night. When the message was finished kids sat in stunned silence. Except for a church kid named Josh. Josh jumped up, ran up to my face and said, “I’ve been in church my whole life. I have NEVER heard this. Why has no one has EVER told me this?”

Without thinking I said, “Maybe the church is so busy telling kids what not to do that we forget to tell you what Jesus did.” That was, it turns out, a pretty good answer. But Josh missed my accidental brilliance. “I don’t know about that,” He turned toward the door, “I’m going Starbucks.” He pulls open my friend’s front door and yells over his shoulder, “It’s the only place still open. I have to tell someone what Jesus did for them!” The door slammed and Josh was gone.

Knowing what Jesus did on the cross in detail, Josh connected the dots to what he did know, that Jesus went to the cross to satisfy a debt that only God could pay. That night Josh’s world began to pivot around a new axis: the immovable cross of Jesus Christ.

Centuries before Jesus lived, Isaiah passed along (in Isaiah 52 and 53) what God told us Jesus would someday do, why he would go to the cross. In John 19:30 Jesus tells us how it panned out – “It is finished.”

Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “I am finished.” He didn’t say, “Oops.” He didn’t say, “three cheers for the attempt.” Jesus said, “It is finished.

Jesus’ “it” was nothing less than the forgiveness of all that stands between us and the Father. All of the wandering, brokenness, and idolatry, taken in one awful fell swoop. The relationship of a lifetime for all eternity freely offered, the opportunity to join God’s high and holy mission to redeem a lost world. That is what Jesus finished on a hill called Golgotha on a cross between two thieves. And the universe rotates around that event.

Isaiah said,  “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows;” And Jesus thundered, “It is finished.”

“He was pierced for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities.” It is finished.

“His chastisement brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.” That too, finished.

“The iniquity of us all was laid on him.” Finished.

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Done.

“Cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.” That as well, finished.

“It was the will of the Lord to crush him; and put him to grief.” Finished.

Because of him “many shall be accounted righteous.” Finished.

“He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors.” Finished.

“He bore the sins of many.” And guess what, that, too, is finished.

And while the world grew quiet Satan stood in hell and clapped. And Jesus, with perhaps the faintest hint of a grin, shook his head, “uh, uh.” And said, “It. Is. Finished.” And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Why is an execution a “Good” Friday? Because, since that Friday, regardless of what you see or hear or think, the entire cosmos pivots on the axis of the victory won, won on the immovable, finished, cross of Jesus Christ.

*How does one commemorate Good Friday? Generally there are two ways: The Good Friday liturgy and by walking the Stations of the Cross. At St. John the Divine, Houston we have the Good Friday liturgy at noon, and stations at 7am, 1 and 6pm. We also have a very powerful 7-7:45 pm service called “The Service of Shadows” that is an adaptation of a medieval service that tells the story of Jesus’ suffering at the cross through Old Testament prophecy, chant, shared responses, and growing darkness.

 

Why are y’all calling Thursday “Monday” and going to church?

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Holy Week for Newbies

Several friends have asked this. I think they suspect Christians of being so out of touch with reality that we are intentionally self-trolling. “Maundy,” however, is the English-ification of “mandatum” (as in “mandate”). Latin for “command,” it comes from John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”

Christians head to church on Maundy Thursday for services commemorating the events of Jesus’ final night on earth – the “Last Supper.” It was essentially a going away party in which Jesus hosted a passover dinner for his disciples and altered and reinterpreted the traditional Jewish seder by saying that the bread is his body, the wine is his blood, and that his followers should continue sharing that meal until he returns. No one present came anywhere close to understanding what he was talking about. (The event is recorded in great detail in John’s gospel, chapters 13-17, five chapters worth of text!)

Two events happen at Maundy Thursday services: A foot washing (Jesus washed the disciples feet in John 13:1-20), and after the Lord’s Supper (communion), the altar area is stripped of all ornamentation, greenery, books, symbols, and linen. The lights are then extinguished and the congregation exits in quietly. The uglification of the church in silence is a stark reminder of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death was portrayed by each New Testament writer as a self-sacrificial act explained using a variety of analogies, among them; a substitution (not unlike that of Arnaud Beltrame this week), a great moral example, a ransom paid to redeem humans, and the victorious king over death and the grave. The scriptures use each of these analogies. Together they seem to me to be the many facets of a gemstone; take one away and the brilliance ceases, add them all together and beauty shines forth.

The question my non-church friends usually ask at this point is: “So, how are you guys doing with that new commandment Jesus gave you to love one another? It is a fair question. Are we washing one another’s feet?

And are we allowing God to strip bare the altars of our lives of all of the idolatrous stuff, inclinations, and ideas that we fill our hearts with?

Mommy Bloggers, Simplicity, and the Power of the Cross

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I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. At least I thought I was.

And not just because, like Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, I have many leatherbound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany. I had my moment of self-absorption when someone pointed out that my blog had more hits than other Episcopal clergy. I was so very impressed with myself…until it dawned on me that Episcopal clergy blogs are small potatoes. A mommy blogger got as many hits on a post about overcoming postpartum with a well-timed Lilly Pulitzer dress purchase as I had in 3 years of posting. I’m not mocking mommy blogs. Once the great writing was found in political commentary and pulpits. Today, much of the great writing is on mommy blogs. Mommy bloggers highlight the beauty and make simple the complexity of our lives in 500 words. I’m going to do my best to do that with Jesus and the cross…

Three short verses.

John 19:28-30: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they soaked a sponge and put it on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Three small words. 

“It is finished.” They are Jesus’ last words. His final message; His last impression. What does Jesus want to make sure we never forget? “It is finished.”

Three small words. Except they aren’t 3 words at all. In the original Greek there is but a single word: Tetelestai. It means “complete” or “finished.”  Jesus, having lived a sinless and sacrificial life, having said, “I lay down my life a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45), having surrendered to a cross as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), uttered his last word: “Tetelestai.” “It is finished.” It might be the single most important word in all of Scripture: Tetelestai. “It is finished.” “Complete.” It was the word printed on a bill when payment had been received. We write, “Paid in full.” They wrote, “Tetelestai.” The word occurs in the New Testament in this form in this one place, surely John’s original readers would have noticed the implication: The bill for all human brokenness and rebellion has “paid in full” stamped across it.

Paul spends Romans 5 discussing how Jesus’ death defeated the effects of Adam’s sin, completely. Paul spends Romans 8 discussing one result that payment rendered, neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Grammar of Faith

No one likes grammar, but here grammar is our friend. “Tetelestai” is in the perfect tense, used to indicate a completed action with ongoing effects extending into the future. Jesus could have used the tense of simple action, etelesthay, “The work is done.” But this action was anything but simple.  Because Jesus fully and perfectly completed his task, the ongoing effects are that you and I are offered union with God forever. And, as bearers of that union, you and I carry the potential to live lives brimming over with meaning and purpose – we bear the Good News of the completion Jesus purchased for a lost and sin-sick world. It is finished; Tetelestai. The gospel in a single word; Tetelestai. Sin need never stand between humanity and God again; Tetelestai.

How do we experience life “paid in full”?

That receipt is given by grace. Received through faith. Cemented by baptism. And fed by word and sacrament. It was bought by God himself for “all who receive him,” (Jn 1:12) Tetelestai is an astounding mystery. “Paid.” Complete. Finished. Brought to perfection. Forever.

This Sunday of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the king of glory wills to enter the gates of your life. Receive your king. He has bought us, paid our debt, and sends us into the world on holy mission, destined to never have an ordinary moment again. Tetelestai.

Neither Ron Burgundy, nor you or I is that big a deal.  Jesus Christ is a big deal. The big deal. He has bought us, paid our debt, and sends us into the world on holy mission, destined to never have an ordinary moment again. Tetelestai.

 

Image credit: Graham Sutherland “Study for Crucifixion,” 1947. Downloaded from smp.org

 

Come Out of Hiding

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Photo courtesy of Diocese of Phoenix, retrieved from dphx.org

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(Guest post by my friend, the Rev. Louise Samuelson)

I remember listening to Jesus’s words against public displays of prayer and fasting while waiting for the priest to smear a very noticeable swath of black ash onto my forehead. Isn’t this inviting the very hypocrisy Jesus seems to be condemning?

But what if the practice of putting on ashes is not hypocrisy at all but rather irony? The people of Jesus’s day would make a great show of their humility by covering themselves with ashes. We on the other hand are masters of cleaning up. We spend a great deal of time and money to look good. We practice slapping a smile on our faces and letting the world know we are fine. We hide behind façades we create, knowing too well that to often our outsides do not match our insides.

Maybe this practice of smearing our foreheads with ashes gives us an opportunity to reveal our hidden truth. Maybe this liturgy we participate in on Ash Wednesday stage manages us into public exposure: we are not what we seem.

These burned up particles of carbon remind us that we are made of the stuff of the earth. To be human, to be humble, and to be humus or earth, all come from the same root word for “ground.” The ashes we spread on our foreheads “ground” us in the reality of who we are: human beings, created by God, and connected to every other created thing.

These ashes also remind us that we are not what we seem, but sinners living hidden lives. The ashes remind us to be real and vulnerable. To show the world what is true about me. I’m not perfect. I’m a bit of a mess.

We are invited on this day by the prophet Joel to come out of our hiding places and return to the Lord. The great irony is that we are called to return in vulnerability to the God who knows in secret and sees in secret. The God who spoke carbon particles into existence and created us in his image, this is who we return to. This is the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The God who sees our secrets is the God whose property is always to have mercy.

The grace of God is the setting in which we return. God’s natural inclination is mercy. As we come out of hiding and acknowledge that this God of mercy sees us, we are ready to begin a Holy Lent, to practice disciplines that will lead us to integration. We can begin to become people whose insides match our outsides.

How does this transformation to integrity come about? Jesus mentions three practices used for millenniums to become who God intended: Giving to the needy, fasting, and prayer. It is through generosity, dying to ourselves, and meeting intimately with God that we become the people God designed us to be.

I love the definition of intimacy as “in to me see.” As we practice the disciplines of generosity, fasting and prayer in secret, where our loving Father sees us, we allow God to see into us…and intimacy is developed.

Many people like to give up or take on something during Lent. The three disciplines that Jesus mentions could be could be divided into things that we take on that help others, things that we give up that keep us from being who God intends us to be, and things we take on that help us grow in intimacy with God.

I remember a time in my life that I was painfully aware that my insides did not match my outsides. I looked like a good Christian mother, leading bible studies, and homeschooling my children. But I had doubts about God and felt far from him. I also felt if I shared that with anyone in my circle I would be rejected. I also had some unhealthy habits that seemed to have total control over me.

The first step I had to take was to come out of hiding to a couple of trusted friends. I needed to allow them to see into me. Fortunately in the midst of my doubts I had a trust in God’s Grace and mercy.

I’ll never forget that first Lent when I was a part of this particular group of safe friends. I decided that I would fast from all food every Wednesday. I wanted to look at the hold that excess food had over me. I also took on an extra time of prayer Wednesday nights. My sweet husband would take our three children out to dinner. I would light a candle, get out my bible and journal and spend the evening with the God who sees me and loves me in secret.

Giving up food for a day, and taking on a special date with God changed my faith. I became a more integrated person free to be honest about my struggles and free to be available for others. It all started with a loving place where I could be real and a simple trust in God’s never ending love for me.

As you enter this Lenten season, let these ashes be a moment of honesty for you. Allow yourself to be seen as a bit of a mess. Then allow yourself to go inside and meet in secret with the God who loves you. Let him show you what you might take on or what you might give up. Then find a small group of people you can be real with, allow them to be that safe space for you to be seen.

I hope that each of us we will experience a deeper more intimate relationship with God this Lent. God will reward you with more of himself and with a life of integrity, where your insides and outside will reveal the beautiful person you are in Christ.