As the Lenten Season draws to a close approaching Holy Week, can you look back and honestly admit that you are the chief sinner? I hope so. There is no spiritual lesson as helpful as seeing your own sin as so hideous that it sent Jesus Christ to the cross. When you bundle up all the sins that others have sinned against you in this year—none compares to your lifetime of personal sin against a Holy God.
I attended the Forgiveness Sunday service at the Orthodox Church that precedes their Lenten journey. There is a special liturgy that is used for this service focusing on the reality that each of us are grave sinners. The closing of this time of prayer is when the clergy come out in their black robes (the beautiful purple is laid aside.) Then beginning with the head priests, and assistant priests each person in the church comes before one another, one at a time, and confesses Forgive me a sinner, to which they hear the response God forgives. After the assistant priest confesses, he stands to the right of the priest and the rest of the clergy follow suit. Then the congregation, row by row, begins with the priest, then moves to the right to greet fellow sinners who will make their way past until the whole congregation has confessed. I hardly knew anyone at this service so I had not directly sinned against any of them that I am aware. However, the repeated gesture had a huge impact on me.
I said: Forgive me a sinner, with conviction. And I received the response back that God forgives and that I should have a blessed Lent. The response to my repentance is quick and powerful as the reality of my sin hits home in my soul. I hope to attend this service again next year. It was both amazingly joyful and brutally honest.
Without the reality of your sin, Easter would have no meaning. It would be a horror story with a sci-fi ending. But you are a sinner, the chief sinner. Yet I can’t convince you of that; your own soul bears this news. When your soul faces the fact of the darkness of sin, it is drawn to the light of Christ that casts out all darkness and replaces it with a beam of joy and gladness!
Forgiveness of sin was not easy for Jesus. He told us that when some friends brought a paralyzed man to Him. Jesus saw their faith and told the man that his sins were forgiven. The church leaders took offense at His statement but did not speak it out loud in front of the crowds. Jesus responded anyway:
“Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, ‘Get up and walk”? (Matthew 9:4-5).
To be prepared for Easter Sunday you need to answer Jesus’ question in your heart. If your heart says it is easier to say, “get up and walk rather than your sins are forgiven,” then you have missed the whole point of Lent. Indeed it was much harder, close to impossible to forgive your sins. Enter Holy week with a holy awareness of how hard it was. What rejection, torture, suffering,and humiliation did it take for God to forgive the sins of man?
Rejoice this Easter as you hear Jesus say to you as He said to the paralyzed man: Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).