Beloved in Christ:
The Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday calls the people of God to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
Self-examination in preparation for Easter, and indeed for every other celebration of the Holy Eucharist, is a discipline to be embraced by all who profess faith in the One who suffered, died and rose again for our salvation. The Bible regards self-examination as a very serious matter as we prepare ourselves to receive Christ in the Eucharist. In First Corinthians 11:26-29 we read:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote: Self-examination must be done in the presence of God—we must compare ourselves not with our neighbor, nor with our own subjective ideals, but with the Perfect.
Certainly, we meet Jesus in many different ways and in many different places, but the Holy Eucharist, properly prepared for, is the way and the place where the presence of God is assured. Until we meet God face to face we will have no idea of the precious gift of the Eucharist that we too often take for granted. The Holy Eucharist is the re-presentation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot possibly participate in the Eucharist without becoming better people because of it.
As an aid to our self-examination the Book of Common Prayer includes An Exhortation to be read on the First Sunday in Lent. It reads in part: Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word or deed; and acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
The church recognizes that there are times when Christians find it difficult to believe that God could possibly forgive their sins and offences. There is a remedy.
The Exhortation continues: And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.
The important spiritual discipline of self-examination in preparation for the Paschal Feast must not be underestimated for it leads us back into a right relationship with God. I am praying for all of us as we are called to the observance of a holy Lent. At the Great Vigil of Easter may we say with confidence that: “This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.”
The Right Reverend William H. Ilgenfritz
Missionary Diocese of All Saints
Anglican Church in North America
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