Many of the stories of Jesus' life that you and I may be able to bring to mind are associated with Lent. We are in the midst of considering part of his famous Sermon on the Mount, which–among many other well-known things he said–includes the passages that are giving shape to three weeks of these reflections (When you give... When you pray... When you fast...). If you think of which biblical stories come to mind when you think of Lent, you might remember some of these: Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, his entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the crowds cheered, a woman anointing him with expensive perfume, Judas' betrayal, the washing of the disciples' feet, the Last Supper, and certainly Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. These are the stories that shape Lent for us each year. But this week, as we consider prayer–particularly in continuing to look at praying with other people's words, what are the prayers that shape Lent for us? Is there any prayer from the Bible that comes to mind when you think of Lent?
For me, it's Psalm 51, the prayer of repentance, which tradition has ascribed to David after being confronted by the prophet Nathan about his sin with Bathsheba. It is the psalm we're given to begin Lent each year on Ash Wednesday, and it is given to us every year for good reason, as it expresses the desire that has drawn so many Christians into Lenten practices throughout the centuries.
It's a totally exposed, gut-wrenched plea to God for mercy on our transgressions while also expressing a profound trust in his unfailing love and great compassion.
It's an acknowledgement of our own utter helplessness when it comes to ridding ourselves of sin and washing away its stains.
It's a view of ourselves as standing before God, our loving and just judge, and entering our plea of "guilty–though You have always known that and have loved me anyway."
It's an expression of hope in God as the only one who can guide us through the mess that we have created for ourselves.
It's a recognition that, while it's possible to do all of the helpful outward things in ways that look good, in the end the only thing that truly opens the door to restoration for us is having hearts that are continually repentant in ways that only God can see.
It's an awareness of our public privilege and responsibility, once we have been restored, to also help point others toward the same reconciliation that God has so generously offered us. (Time after time, after time, after time...)
Two of the most important aspects of this kind of prayer (praying with other people's words) are:
- Those aren't the kinds of things I usually come up with to pray about on my own, though when I pray them, they resonate with me as being things that match my soul-level desires.
- I am not the first person to pray these words. From the time of David on, God's people have found them fitting to pray as a way of acknowledging our sin and seeking God's mercy. Faithful Jews prayed them while in exile and waiting for the Messiah. Mary and Joseph prayed them. So did Peter, James, John, Paul, and all of the rest of the early Christians. So did countless others through the centuries–from St. Augustine to St. Francis to Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr., from John of the Cross to John Wesley... to you and me as we are privileged to pray them together today.
A Prayer for the Day:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]