–Women Miners Carrying Coal, Vincent Van Gogh, 1881-82
Lent, we know, is a season of repentance. It is also therefore a season of mercy, for whenever we confess with the hope of conversion, whenever a desire to be free from a wounded or wounding life moves us to reach for help, pardon and healing are already ours.
As professor Greg Mobley writes, at the heart of Christian experience lies “the urgency of love in the present that overwhelms even the terrors of the past.” This urgency, he says, is what the slaver John Newton called “amazing grace,” and the torturer Saul of Tarsus called “the free gift of righteousness.”
In my lifetime, the urgency of love has lifted from my back more than one burden of shame and sorrow. If you have experienced the same relief even once in yours, you know what I mean when I say that I would wish this grace on my worst enemy (as well as, of course, upon my dearest friends).
I would like to suggest a simple Lenten exercise. On the Sundays of Lent when you come to worship, look around at the people with you there and try to grasp this reality – that sitting next to you, across from you, in front of you, are people carrying burdens which, if you knew all the facts and feelings of them, would rob you of breath. Then consider yourself, and your own.
During the silence at the time of confession, imagine Jesus removing one of your burdens. Tell God that you believe that you can be free. Be grateful. Then imagine that you are helping people around you unload too, loosening knots, guiding bundles to the floor, moving them away with your foot.
Then, after the assurance of pardon, when the worship leader invites you to share a sign of Christ’s peace, step over all that useless cargo and greet your neighbors – light, relieved, and gratefully amazed at what they did for you, what you did for them, and what grace is doing for us all.