Jejune Holiness: A Return To Innocence or (My Reflections on Ash Wednesday and Lent)


Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today marks the season of Lent for the Church, which most people across denominations participate in and practice. Today is Dies Cnerum or the Day of Ashes, Ash Wednesday. For a brief history on how Lent became to be a Holy Day within the Church read here:

http://www.orlutheran.com/html/ash.html

Lent to many people can be about different things. For some it is a season of fasting, a season of almsgiving, a time of introspective reflection, a time of praying, a time of devotion, a time of rending our hearts unto the Father to have them changed, a time of meditation upon God’s Word, or a time of repentance and penance. For me Lent is about all of these things

I like this defining of Lent:

“The definition of the ‘observance of a Holy Lent’ is marked by disciplines of self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, all moving toward that purpose: to believe again in the power of God to offer us ways to ‘die to sin’ and begin new life again,” said Dr. James Kowalski

‎Joan Chittister said, “Lent is not a ritual. It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out.”

I like how those two put Lent. Lent is about many things, but I want to focus on that dying to sin and beginning new life again by renewing our faith from the inside out.

For me Lent is about HOLINESS….

Lent follows the season of Epiphany, which is about the celebration of Jesus’ Baptism. I wrote about the season of Epiphany and much of what I have to say here will tie into that blog found here:

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=482768963262

After Jesus’ Baptism He was led into the wilderness which is recorded well in Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

Pope Benedict said, “”Fasting means abstaining from food, but includes other forms of self-denial to promote a more sober lifestyle. But that still isn’t the full meaning of fasting, which is the external sign of the internal reality of our commitment to abstain from evil with the help of God and to live the Gospel.”

Isn’t that exactly what Christ experienced in the Wilderness? Christ fasted, which was a outward manifestation of His internal love for God to abstain from evil!

Jesus experienced the spokeman for evil himself and yet Christ did not succomb to the temptations of sin and evil.

He abstained by evil!

What is interesting is that He abstained from evil not just by fasting, but by refuting Satan with Scripture.

Christ retained His holiness and defeated His temptation by His meditations, prayers, fasting, and use of Scripture.

We, too, have been baptized. It is at our baptism that we receieve forgiveness, we rise to new life in innocence when we come out of that water. We are a new person.

BUT

We still have to deal with our flesh or sinful nature. It isn’t too long afterwards that we will lose that initial innocence by sinning. We fall and stumble.

We fail to obtain that holiness that Christ had.

My observation is that so often our holiness is just that our holiness!

Our holiness is JEJUNE HOLINESS!

Meaning it is lacking in significance because it is not up to us what holiness is. We are not the definers of holiness. God’s Word is the definer of true holiness, but so often in our morally relative socity we make things that are not acceptable to God acceptable to us such as fornication, divorce, lying, cheating, adultery, homosexuality, or whatever else it may be.

I say that because we don’t take our lives and examine them in light of Scripture, but so often twist Scripture or right out ignore it to justify our behavior.

I am very guilty of this, please understand that.

We ALL are!

We were baptized into salvation and newness of life with a committment to abstain from evil and to live out the Gospel.

I feel in my life with all the moral relativism around that it is hard to live that out these days. We go into our Wilderness and instead of confronting it with Scripture we embrace it or justify it by any means necessary.

Some may think that this is a little harsh, but it is a observation I have made. Ask yourself how many sermons you have heard on repentance, penance, sin, holiness, and confession in your life.

I have not heard that many. Repentance seems to be a neglected pillar of the Gospel that we seeker friendly types want to cover up because God forbid we hold someone or ourselves to a Biblical standard of holiness, which is obtained by abstaining from evil, living out the Gospel, and repentanting by confession when we fail to do those things.

I CONFESS THAT I AM A SINNER! I have failed to repent! I have failed to obtain holiness! I have failed to live out the Gospel by living righteously and by sharing with others the Gospel and meeting their needs! I confess that I have sinned against God and man! I confess that I have justified my sinful nature and have failed to live according to Biblical Holiness! I confess I have lived according to my Jejune holiness!

I feel that confession is forgotten in our seeker friendly model of ministry and church today. Saint James told us in his Epistle, “Therefore confess your sins to one another.”

Saint John writes, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We must confess to one another and to God. Confession is not to be in silence, but with our brothers and sisters for the purpose of accountablitity and need be discipline. We must regain a focus on confession. Confession must be understood in light of the fact that at our baptism we are forgiven, but not for our future sins. We are not promised that. We are forgiven after baptism through confession.

The Didache says, “In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life..But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

Confession is VERY important as believers!

Job said, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

It is a strong phrase to say you despise yourself, but it is the beginning of repentance.

‎Justyn Terry said, “Today, Christians around the world hear the sobering words, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ It is an invitation to face up to our own sin and mortality and to start the forty-day journey through Lent to Easter. It is a time for greater honesty, for facing hard truths about our lives and for rediscovering God’s grace.”

Yes, we are self-despised sinners! Yes, we MUST repent! Yes, we MUST confess our sins to God and one another!

But we have been baptized; we can return to innocense by rediscoverying God’s grace anew!

Our jejune holiness is not what makes us better Christians! Holiness is not defined by culture or by our individual likings, it is defined by Scripture. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16).

I believe that repentance and confession are essential if we are going to become Partakers of the Divine Nature that Saint Peter writes about (II Peter 1:4).

So for me Lent is about reflecting and meditating about God’s Word and how my messed up view of holiness, my jejune holiness, does not make my holy. It is easy to become holy by my own standards, but we are called to become holy to His standards (Leviticus 11:44).

Lent for me is about introspective examination. It is about sacrificing and being more disciplined. It is about discovering how our sin prevents us from obtaining holiness if we go on without repentance and confessing.

So really Lent is about that returning to innocence, to that newness of life and grace that we receieved at our baptisms, for if we are repent and confess He is faithfull to forgive us.

Psalm 51:17 says, “
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

May we pray together through the Litany of Penitance:

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and
strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We
have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.
We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved
your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the
pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation
of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those
more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and
our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to
commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of
concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

Amen

Remember the words of the Psalmist:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

Take time today to repent and confess with a brother or sister and before God whether or not you are planning to practice Lent or participate in Ash Wednesday.

May we be filled with the Holy Spirit to repent and confess our sins in order that the He may be able to work in and through us furthering us in taking on the Divine Nature. God cannot work where sin is present, so may we take this time to confess, repent, meditate, sacrifice, and give alms.

Therefore we beseech him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do on this day, and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

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