“Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.” [Joel 2:17]
To all my beloved: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord be with you. Grace, that you may turn away from your sins and return to Him this Lenten season for “now is the acceptable time” [2 Cor 6:2]; Mercy, that on your return you may find forgiveness and newness of life “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” [Hebrews 8:12]; and Peace, that you may no longer be disturbed either in conscience or spirit by the burden or guilt of sin, for “Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned” [Psalm 32:1]. This is the opportunity that the season of Lent presents to us. The holy mother Church, therefore, urges all her children not to ignore this opportunity nor continue in rebellion. Like it was with the people of old, the calamities that befall us could only be due to our rebellion against Him. Surely, God is compassionate and merciful, He will spare us but only when we return to Him fasting, weeping, and with our hearts torn.
Return to the Lord
Brethren, we have God’s word to guide us and His grace to give us strength to declare as the prodigal son did “I will leave this place and go to my Father” [Luke 15:18]. This is what Lent calls us to do both individually and collectively as a Church. In our iniquities we are cut off from God and are without rest or fulfillment. Sin distorts the natural order of our relationship with God our Creator – that state of friendship, communion, freedom, dominion in which all things made were good. To regain that natural order – that original state would mean to return to the Lord who spares us, forgives our failings and heals us.
God, in His mercy and compassion is always ready to spare His people when they acknowledge their sins and return to Him. He did not make us to destroy us for He hates nothing He has made. He created us for relationship with Him. So even when we stray, [we always do] He initiates our return to Him. Being aware that we are weak and steeped in the weakness of our flesh and cannot return to Him on our own He constantly seeks us out, “Even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and tear your hearts and not your garments” [Joel 2:12]. While He seeks us out, He requires that we respond to His call for repentance with the help of His grace which abounds.
The return to God must be “with all your heart” and marked by “fasting, weeping and mourning.” This is no surface repentance but one that cuts to the core of our bodies, our emotions, and our spirit. The call to return to God is grounded first of all in the character of God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” and who “relents from punishing.” This is the nature of God that spares, saves rather than destroy.
Very often, out of ignorance of the true nature of God, we are held bondage by fear of His wrath for our sins, and so languish in sin instead of returning to His warm embrace. To deny we have sinned against God would be to the peril of our souls; and to accept our sins against Him but refuse to trust Him enough to return to Him for forgiveness is still perilous. God will spare us for it is He who calls, “Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord, “I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful, I will not be angry forever” [Jer 3:12]. So all who return meet not a Father who scolds but one whose arms are wide open to receive us with those words, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” [Luke 15:22].
When we cry out to God to spare us, we do so as an acknowledgment of our state as sinners, our utter helplessness to save ourselves from the doom of sin and our reliance and trust in His merciful and compassionate nature. However, this acknowledgement has to be accompanied with a sincere effort to turn away from our old ways and do His will. With this we are able to appease God and His words find fulfillment in us, “If my people who bear my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my presence and turn from their wicked ways, then I will listen from heaven and forgive their sins and restore their country” [2 Chron. 7:14]. Let us, therefore, wholeheartedly return to Him with humble and contrite hearts that He may spare us and bless us.
The story of the people of Nineveh shows us a perfect example of God sparing His people who turn back to Him acknowledging their sins, repenting of them and asking for forgiveness. He is God forever. He does not change. He is still the same even in our days. The issue is with us. We need to stop being rebellious against Him and turn to Him not only in body but in our hearts especially. Not only during this Lenten season but always, once we realise we have gone against His will. When we do this, then the Lord will have pity on us, spare us and bless us.
As Lenten season is the time to repent, to return to God, and to enter into an intimate and deep relationship with Christ, it is important for us to live its teaching and spirituality. To repent means we conform ourselves with the will of God and become willing to leave behind our tendency toward sin, focusing and relying our whole life only on Jesus Christ. Lent makes us realise that we are only fragile and sinful human beings and we must rely on God’s strength.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
See Other Messages from the Bishop »