The last place one expects to find grace is in long lists of our failings.
On Ash Wednesday in the Episcopal Church, after ashes are imposed and we are reminded of our mortality, the entire congregation kneels to recite the Litany of Penitence. While Episcopalians are used to corporate confession (in most churches, prayers of confession are recited nearly every Sunday), the one we recite on Ash Wednesday is particularly intense. Not only do we confess our sin to God; we also confess to one another “and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth.” The prayer then proceeds with a comprehensive acknowledgment of our collective propensity to do wrong. We confess our unfaithfulness, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, anger, envy, love of worldly goods, and negligence in prayer and worship. It is, in many ways, a classic vice list that doesn’t really leave any penitential stone unturned.
At approximately the midpoint of this damning list, however, we are called to confess “our failure to commend the faith that is in us.” Here, in the midst of all this talk about our wretchedness and the depravity of human nature, we are reminded that there is a part of us that is faithful, that there is a part of us that wants to return to God and put our trust in God’s grace. Too often, we convince ourselves that we couldn’t possibly be faithful enough to be part of a body of believers. Too often, we convince ourselves that our moments of doubt prevent us from being accepted by a Christian community. Too often, we convince ourselves that there is no way God could love us in light of our faithlessness. This attitude, however, misses not only the boundless and gracious love of God, but also the faith that lingers within us, the faith that may have languished over the last months and years but is ready to be cultivated, the faith that is a gift from God we are called to nurture.
I pray that the season of Lent may be a time when you will recognize the faith that is in you and use that faith to trust in the God who loves you.