Lent is a period of forty days during which Christians remember the events leading up to, and including, the death of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity. Lent comes from an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’ as this is when the days start to get longer as we approach Summer.
Traditionally, Lent is a time of reflection and resanctification of our faith, by asking God, or Jesus for forgiveness of our personal sins. This conclusion of Lent ends with the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection at the feast of Easter.
I basically grew up with this understanding of Lent. “The spontaneous, unmerited gift of the divine favour in the salvation of sinners, and the divine influence operating in individuals for their regeneration and sanctification.”1 Oh my, all these theology terms, and sometimes, well, all the time, I wonder what they really have to do with the unmerited presence of the God Source within us.
“The spontaneous unmerited gift” has always troubled me. The idea of Grace as a gift of divine favor does not make divine sense me. So essentially, it seems to me, the “divine favor” is a gift you receive when you say yes to Jesus, or in traditional language, “ask Jesus to come into your heart.” And in so doing, you are given the gift of Grace. What does this mean? Traditionally, it means God’s love has been granted to those who have said yes to Jesus, whether or not they have behaved as God wants them too. Even then, some would question whether or not they actually get a full cup of grace, given their status.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, mid 20th century Lutheran theologian, likes to distinguish between holy grace and cheap Grace. “Cheap grace is the idea that “grace” did it all for me so I do not need to change my lifestyle. The believer who accepts the idea of “cheap grace” thinks he can continue to live like the rest of the world. Instead of following Christ in a radical way, the Christian lost in cheap grace thinks he can simply enjoy the consolations of his grace.”
Again, according to tradition, God’s favour in saying yes to Jesus brings “salvation” through his sacrificial death, means that we are “saved by Grace” and can anticipate living for-ever after in heaven. What is interesting here, is that God’s gift of grace for His/Her favor seems to be conditional, or even exclusive.
What must we do then, to access God’s favor? Some would say, keep the ten commandments, love your neighbor, carry AR-15’s and hate gays and abortionists. (Obviously, tongue in cheek here).
So, the gift is predicated on saying yes to Jesus, because the price of the gift has already been given in Jesus’ blood. Oh yes, a sacrifice. Hence, the gift of grace is not really free but conditional and based on a sacrificial lamb as traditionalists choose to say.
All this theology talk confuses me and wears me out. What if all that theology to describe God’s expectation is not really that confusing? I believe that it can be expressed more understandable without a lot of theology words and dogma.
First of all, let me define what I believe Grace to be: Grace is God making him/herself known by and through love, justice, compassion and mercy. Grace is the very essence of God in Us. Grace was there in the beginning and will be with us always throughout eternity. It is part of our DNA and consequently inherited, not merited. Therefore, it is not a gift to ensure God’s favor, because we always have God’s favor.
Second, Grace is God’s total acceptance of our unique being without cost or condition. You cannot buy it, steal it, win it or delete it, it just is. Can I get an Amen?
Grace does not save us because there is no sin great enough that requires special forgiveness. As the great prophet Jeremiah said in 31:34, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Truth of the matter is as Jeremiah confirms, God does not condemn us. There is no condemnation. Without condemnation, there is no need for forgiveness. Why? Because God is always for us and believes in us whether we do or not. That’s right, God does not condemn us. If that is so and there is no condemnation, then there is nothing for God to forgive. Paul in his 13th chapter of I Corinthians, verse 5, says it like this, “Love (God) doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.”2
For instance, John 8 tells us the story of the woman who was brought to Jesus by the Pharisees for the act of adultery which was punishable by stoning. As they were about to stone her, Jesus quarried, “Let those of you without sin cast the first stone.” One by one the accuses dropped their stone and went away. Jesus then asked the woman, “Where are your accusers?” She replies that they have gone. Jesus then says, ”Then neither do I accuse you, go and sin no more.” This last statement of Jesus, “…go and sin no more” I would translate as: Then go and be mindful of God’s love and work for the greater good. God’s Love (Grace) cannot be had in the same sentence with condemnation. They are opposites. The singleness of God is simply love. God can be nothing else.
Does Grace abound? Yes, indeed it does! Though we should be mindful of that every day through the beauty of nature and the song of life that breathes God’s breath through us, so Lent gives us special opportunity to remember our Oneness with the universe and that we are the creation of a very benevolent Creator that wishes only good for us. It is ever and always present. Perhaps then, the only prayer necessary is a prayer of gratitude and thankfulness.
Most of you know that my mantra has always been Micha 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you but to serve justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” That is my life mantra and prayer for Lent.
As a gift, please enjoy a recording of a new song I wrote about Grace. Thanks to brother Charlie Hood who produced it and offered some harmony.