The sixth day of Lent

Tuesday after 1 Lent

The day before the beginning of Orthodox Lent is called "Forgiveness Sunday." At Vespers on that day, the faithful participate in a remarkable and very personal ceremony: they approach one another and ask forgiveness for any sins they have committed against each other. This is not a substitute for sacramental confession and absolution. Rather it is the logical, may we say necessary?, prerequisite. Rembrandt. The Return of the Prodigal Son. ca 1668/69Sacramental penance is often thought of as a private matter between the penitent and God, by way of a priest, an opportunity to erase the tally of black marks on the scorecard of the soul so that one may have a fresh start in God's eyes. This scorecard mentality misses the point entirely. It represents a self-centered spirituality that focuses on personal salvation, a salvation that can be achieved or earned by fulfilling certain requirements, passing certain tests, and, when those things fail, getting a special dispensation from the scorekeeper. Perhaps we need to alter the terms in which we speak of these thing in order to make any headway in addressing what is really at stake. To speak of forgiveness tends to localize the idea in each individual. Forgiveness requires only two people: the person needing forgiveness and the person doing the forgiving. And often the person doing the forgiving is not the injured party, but God, the injured party having been skipped over in the scorecard mentality which is interested only in the ultimate disposition, not in the proximate circumstances that have led us to need forgiveness in the first place. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer provides a service for the "Reconciliation of  a Penitent." One of the forms provided follows the traditional western form of sacramental confession. Even so, the change of title sets a more helpful context. Forgiveness is empty if it is not accompanied by reconciliation. In fact, it is possible to be forgiven without being reconciled. A debt may be forgiven and erased from the books, but this does not mean that that creditor will do business with the defaulter in the future. Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation is a renewal of the relationship which was broken as well as forgiveness for the act that caused the break in the first place, and this is what salvation is truly about. The prodigal son is received back by his father as a son, not as the mere servant he himself knows that he deserves to be. So let us seek forgiveness and reconciliation on a personal level. We have provided a liturgical form to inaugurate this quest at the beginning of Lent. This is a beginning but it is limited to those within the community of faith and should be carried out into our daily encounters with everyone we meet, particularly those who are not of the community of faith and are in even greater need of the reconciling grace of Christ.      

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