Why We Prepare in Lent

It is always a good idea to take a momentary step back from one’s Lenten journey of self-examination to reflect upon where you are. And, it’s also a good idea to being this reflection by examining a fundamental Christian truth which, too often, we forget amidst the chores of preparation: the reality of God’s Grace.

In the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verses 8-10, it says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not the result of works, lest any one should boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (NRSV)

These words of the Apostle Paul are simple, straight forward, and to the point . . . but they do bear a little amplification.

No amount of preparation, no amount of self-examination, no amount of self-denial will save you. Our Lenten journey must always be balanced with the continual realization that nothing we do will ever save us. It is only by the Grace of God through faith that we are saved. We cannot merit, or earn, salvation. As St. Paul said, “it is a gift of God.”

So why do we go through Lent, spending so much time in self-examination and preparation? I can come up with two good reasons: firstly, we must be made ready to see our culpability in Christ’s crucifixion; and, secondly, we must be willing to join Him there in order to join Him as he exits the tomb.

You see, we are the reason He hangs on the cross. We are the reason Jesus came into this world, lived with us, and then died on the cross. We, just as surely as the Roman soldiers, drove the nails into His feet and wrists. We are the reason for this season. Our exercises in self examination help us to come face-to-face with this truth. We often want to deny our culpability in Christ’s death--Lord knows, I would like to--but if we try to deny it, we will also deny the gift of grace itself. It is a gift we can turn down. We don’t have to accept it. But, if we open ourselves through careful preparation, we will discover that it is simply impossible for us to deny our guilt. We are the reason our Lord went to the cross. And, with this realization, it becomes possible for us to actually accept the gift of forgiveness.

When we have confronted our sin, when we have truly come to grips with our culpability, we will finally be able to see Him on the cross as He really is: our savior.. And, when this happens we will also be able to join Him there as he defeats our sin through death, and our death through His resurrection.

Yes, the gift is free. Grace actually means “unmerited favor.” But, we must not be tempted to turn down the gift by refusing to truly see Christ, crucified, and our role in His death. We prepare during Lent so that we won’t miss Him when He is crucified. We prepare during Lent so that our eyes will be opened, and our hearts made ready, to receive the gift of God’s saving grace. It really is too precious a gift to turn down.

© 1998, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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