The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector
The musical “Les Miserables” is a work largely about sin and forgiveness. Early in the piece the main character, Jean Valjean, has just escaped from prison, where he had been sent for stealing a loaf of bread. He goes to rob the house of the local bishop. As the old bishop sleeps, Jean Valjean steals most of his silver. The police catch the escaped criminal. They drag him before the bishop and say, “This man told us you gave all of this to him.” Valjean hangs his head in front of the bishops. But the bishop quickly says, “Well, I did. Only I don’t understand why he didn’t take these beautiful candlesticks, too. I only want him to be a good man.” And to Valjean he says, “You must use these to become an honest man.” I think we find ourselves in essentially in the same position as Jean Valjean at the beginning of this Lent. We come with our broken lives, and our meager attempts to do better. Our accusers, and even Satan himself, seek to imprison us, to haul us before God and say, “Look at them, the miserable lot! Is that the best they can do?” But God loves us, and has given us His only Son.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are all about the love of God, but also about the holiness of God and our sinfulness. It is easy to concentrate on the grace we receive from God without counting the cost. Even in this story from “Les Miserables” the forgiveness did not come without cost to the bishop. He lost all of his silver. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not free. Our forgiveness cost God His only Son; it cost the suffering and dying of our Lord.
Lent is a time to take to heart the sinfulness of our lives, and how our rebellion grieves the heart of God. In that sense Lent is a great leveler, because we have all sinned in our own unique ways. As Paul Says in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Sin is classically defined as anything that separates us from God and other people. Lent calls us, and offers us time and space, to contemplate all that does separates us from God and other people, and to realize how much we have gained through God’s gracious sacrifice for us. Hence the age-old tradition of giving something up, meant to remind us of the manifold blessings we receive from God.
And then there are the ashes of Ash Wednesday. What a curious tradition. The ashes represent our mortality, the fact that we will all die, and our sinfulness. They are meant to be reminder right between our eyes, to get our attention. They represent our sin and rebellion, both individually and as a people. You see, within all of us there is a broken mirror. And try as we might to glue or tape that brokenness we cannot fix it ourselves. But the great Good News is that God can, and does.
I invite you to seize the great opportunity of this Lent: to look at the nature of sin in your life, whatever it is that separates you from God and your brothers and sisters. What else would you like to do? What would you like to change? On a broader scale, how can you and I, and our parish, contribute towards healing the sin and brokenness of our society and our world? Maybe we can only work on one or two things, but mostly I invite you to stop, to think, to thank, to pray, in short to live more intentionally.
As we stand before God, as we stammer out our case, as we acknowledge our sins, our only response, our only defense, is that our only mediator and advocate, Jesus, loves us. And that is enough. Let us meditate and build on this sure foundation throughout the opportunity this Lent offers us.
See you in Church,