Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Honest preparation

Shrove Tuesday takes its name from the verb 'to shrive', describing the action of examining one's conscience and admitting truthfully without excuses before God, in a the company of a priest, all those things which trouble the heart are are considered wrong and sinful. The objective of the exercise is to hear the declaration of God's forgiveness from the priest, and be offered help and guidance to put one's life right in a moral and spiritual way that brings peace and restores confidence.

It's a day for diagnosis of spiritual ailments, for reassurance that healing and growth are possible, no matter how catastrophically we may believe we have failed. It's an important preparation for the penitential journey of Lent, in which sorrow and regret for the past are overcome by the struggle to overcome faults and errors that lead to estrangement from God. 

It's also a day to consider making amends, giving apologies to others affected by one's wrong-doing, making steps towards reconciliation, where this is needed. It could take a long time to complete this initiative, but recognising the need and desiring to act upon it are the first step. It's at the heart of Jesus' teaching: 
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Matt 5:23-24)

"As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison." (Luke 12:58)

Reconciliation with God and with one another is an appeal made with vigorous passion in the writings of St Paul. In his second letter to the Corinthians  he says
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18) and 

"We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:20).

We have to start by honestly recognising the state we're in and the need we have to make a fresh start with God.

Penitence is an expression of gratitude a result of receiving unconditional forgiveness, from the One who 'knows of what we are made' (Psalm 103:14)

Sin is more than the symptomatic thoughts, words and deeds that cause suffering, it is the very evil of suffering itself from which God lovingly longs to free his wounded, straying children. God's appeal reaches out to humankind from heart of scripture, likewise his promise  of compassion

"I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel's mourners" (Isaiah 57:18)

"I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them." (Hosea 14:4)

Shrove Tuesday is traditionally the climax of carnival celebrations, one last celebration of indulgence before the austerities of Lenten self'denial are imposed. It's a way of concealing the true nature of the day, and it's no surprise that many carnival goers wear masks. Is this to conceal inner grief and sorrow, and hide genuine intentions? 

It's doubtful all that many people look beyond party time while it's happening, to the serious matter of accountability to God for their actions. It's not unusual to hide inner turmoil and torment behind a cheerful face, for fear of having to explain to enquirers that something's wrong. This behaviour is so common that it was written in to one of the world's earliest explanations of why human beings feel bad about things they don't get right.

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." (Genesis 3:8-9)

But, as St John remainds us in his first epistle

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:8-9)

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