Thursday, March 10, 2011
Of Pancakes and Piety - Not Much Shriving Going On
The word SHROVE is from the old English verb shrive. What does it mean to shrive? Shrove or shrived, shriv-en or shrived, shriv-ing.
— verb (used with object)
1. to impose penance on (a sinner).
2. to grant absolution to (a penitent).
3. to hear the confession of (a person).
— verb (used without object) Archaic .
4. to hear confessions.
5. to go to or make confession; confess one’s sins, as to a priest.
If you survey the landscape of American Christianity, you do not see a whole lot of shriving going on. To be sure there are calls to repentance but much of it is a call to manifest a specific moral behavior. When it is applied to us as a people, it too often is seen as the stuff you have to do to get what you want (such as the distorted use of II Chronicles 7:14: if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land which becomes a way to get America back on its track by ditching immoral behavior).
Real repentance is occasioned by the work of the Spirit -- not a preliminary work which we do and to which the Spirit responds. Real repentance is not some precondition of grace but the fruit of grace at work already in the life of the penitent. Repentance cannot be equated with giving up outward sins but neither can it be satisfied when there is no attempt to reign in desire and shape our outward behavior.
Repentance is the work of God teaching us to despair of our sins and not simply regret them. It crushes all our pride and self-sufficiency and admits that sin is no character defect that can be fixed by discipline or overcome by focusing on one's strengths. Repentance kills us in the proverbial dust and ashes of our beginning and our ending and then in the midst of it all, cries out to God for the promise of His grace. Christians say words like “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” not because we are uncertain how God will respond but because we know not only His hate of sin and evil but the power of His love to work forgiveness, give life to the dead, and grant the gift of salvation to the unworthy.
To live in repentance is to live with this crushed spirit -- not to get past it or to live beyond it but to live with it, and, at the very same time, to cast your only hope for salvation on the mercy of God in His Son Christ. In one arena, this takes place when we make confession -- the private confession of our prayers, the public confession of the Divine Service, the private confession before our Pastors, and the consolation of the brethren when we confess to one another. Lent has turned into things like the hangover after Mardi Gras self-indulgence or the ease at which we ditch certain desires or wants or habits (knowing full well that we can grab them back after forty days or so). Let us not treat sin or Lent so lightly -- giving up only to take back the sin in our hearts, minds, mouths, and bodies. Lent is about shriving, repenting, confessing and living in this attitude and spirit daily.