I love Lent. I know what you might be thinking. “Lent? How could anyone possibly love Lent? It’s a very depressing time.” You’re right. It can be a depressing time. After all, Lent is the season of the Church Year in which we reflect on our sinfulness. One of my theology professors in college once wrote, “Lent is the spiritual equivalent of scrutinizing yourself in a tall mirror, first thing in the morning, under a glaring 100-watt bare bulb, naked, standing on a scale. It’s not a pretty picture. Every imperfection is exposed.”
Under similar self-scrutiny, the apostle Paul confessed in Romans 7:18-19.
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
These words serve as a remarkable Lenten confession. They are an exasperated cry of complete incompetence. After staring into that mirror, we have to admit it: we cannot stop sinning. Paul continues his distraught thought in verse 24:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Wretched is a word that has been used numerous times to describe us in our sinful nature. The word is used in a number of hymns.
In the hymn, If Your Beloved Son, O God (Lutheran Service Book p. 568), the first verse sums up this confession nicely:
“If Your beloved Son, O God,
had not to earth descended
and in our mortal flesh and blood
had not sin’s power ended,
then this poor, wretched soul of mine
in hell eternally would pine
because of my transgression.”
The same theme is stated in Just As I Am, Without One Plea (LSB 570), verse 4: “Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind.”
Once more we see it in the hymn Your Table I Approach (LSB 628), as verse 2 reads, “Lord, I confess my sins and mourn their wretched bands.”
Even Amazing Grace (LSB 744) repeats the word: “Amazing grace--how sweet the sound--that saved a wretch like me!”
There is hope, however. In the hymn, Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556), verse 4 reads, “But God had seen my wretched state before the world’s foundation, and mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation.”
The wretchedness of our sinful nature is not the end. It is true that we are wretched, and on our own, we can do nothing to save ourselves. Paul recognized this after he asked who would deliver him from this body of death. He answered his own question in verse 25 with the only answer there can be: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
This is why I love Lent. The depth of shame and guilt that come with reflecting on sin during this Lenten season can leave us feeling weak and without hope. But, we are reminded that there is always hope. The hope we have in our future is not based on what we have done, what we will do or even what little can be done to rectify our own situation. Praise the Lord! With our hope in Christ, the burden of shame, guilt and despair is lifted from us. Our Lord Jesus Christ took that from our shoulders onto His own, and then to the cross, setting us free.
Because of this incredible gift, we are able to press forward in joy. These feelings of wretchedness are not permanent. We rejoice in the promise that Christ supports us with so much strength that we cannot grow weary. We rejoice that He has taken away our sins and continually offers us His free gift of grace. We rejoice that after every Good Friday comes an Easter Sunday.
Come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.
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