The invitation to Lent in the United Methodist ritual reminds us that Lent "was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to participation in the life of the Church."
Lent, like spring, is a time of new beginning, a time of blooming, a time of restoration. The winter season is past, the dryness, coldness, and darkness of winter is replaced by a new creation, beautiful, colorful, full of life.
It makes sense that we gather on Ash Wednesday to be reconciled. Maybe we do not consider any of our actions "serious sins," maybe our doings were more mundane: a bad attitude, a strong word, a lack of understanding. Whatever it was if we are honest with ourselves we recognize that it placed us outside, it hindered relationship with God, others, or both.
The Christian tradition calls us constantly to be reconciled. At the core of our story of faith is the idea that God sent a savior so that we could be restored, we could be reconciled to God and to each other. A relationship was broken, something needed to be done so God provided the way. Those of us who have experienced reconciliation, are now called to be about the ministry of reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Reconciliation cannot be taken lightly. It requires more than an "I'm sorry," or even an "I'll never do it again," it takes a changed heart, a transformed spirit, a gift of grace. Left to our own devices we would either never reconcile, too proud to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or jump to a superficial reconciliation, where no one does the difficult work, the soul work, required for a truly renewed relationship.
Because of its difficulties any attempt at reconciliation begins with self-examination. How have our actions or inactions broken our relationships? How have our attitudes and ways of life become hindrances to experiencing life as a gift, to experience others as gifts, to experience God as the source of all that is? What needs to change in us in order for reconciliation to take place? These are difficult questions that necessitate a community, a community of reconciliation, to help each of us lean into the answers that will restore us.
Reconciliation requires repentance. Before the Eucharist "we confess that we have not loved [God] with our whole heart, have failed to be an obedient church, have not done [God's] will, have broken [God's] law, have rebelled against [God's] love, have not loved our neighbors, and have not heard the cry of the needy." (United Methodist Hymnal. p. 8) We have proven time and time again to be self centered, have refused to live life for the common good as a community, and in our personal lives have behaved in ways that mirror our communal failings, both publicly and privately. In confessing we acknowledge our repentance and our desire to begin again.
Reconciliation requires penance. Although not very popular in the world today, penance is the activity of repentance. The penitent seeks to make things right that have been wrong. Penitential actions are much more than words said, or religious duty, but are the natural response to our recognition that our actions or inaction have caused brokenness in ourselves or others.
The means of grace provide for our continued ministry of reconciliation. It would be difficult for any of us to not seek reconciliation if we are immersed in the worship of God (with its call to make peace with our neighbor each Sunday), partaking of the Eucharist (with its continual telling of the story of our faith), studying and meditating on scripture, doing work of justice and peace in our community, and gathering with other believers to be accountable for our life of faith.
May the sign on our forehead become the visible sign of our desire to be reconciled again and again to God, to our neighbor, and to our true selves. May we be reconciled and become agents of reconciliation in the world. Let us repent! And believe the Gospel!