Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 21
This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
Grace brings renewal. When God spoke of a new covenant, God was explaining to humanity how grace—abundant, unmerited grace—leads to renewal. The Christian faith is about both the “now” and the “not yet.” God’s grace that covers all of humanity is present even before we are aware of God in our lives. This prevenient grace is wholly dependent on God’s nature rather than based on who we are or what we are aware of. Once we become aware of God’s grace, the door is opened for us to see the future—a future where God will know all of us and we will all know God.
Paradoxically, Lent is the perfect time to view the future as God intends it to look. We enter into Lent knowing the power of the resurrection; traveling through Jesus’s life, work, and ministry all the way to the cross helps us to remember both the “now” and the “not yet” of renewal. In this Lenten season, what has grace illuminated to reveal the renewal ahead?
Prayer: As I move toward the cross, O God, help me to become aware of the now and the not yet.
Monday, March 22
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. (Psalm 51:1-3)
Grace provides renewal. But before we can get to renewal, we must be honest about what it takes to have a fresh and clean start. There are a multitude of ways in which people articulate what taking communion means to them, but my favorite is this: it is the outside sign of the invisible grace of God, which is fully present when we come to the table together.
Celebrating the sacraments is a way in which we invite renewal into our lives. Just as grace comes to us because of who God is and not because of what we do, renewal through the sacraments comes to us because of who God is. If you feel that your mindset or recent actions are a barrier to taking communion, remember that God’s renewal is based upon the goodness of God, and renewal is given to us without cost.
Prayer: Gracious God, renew me and have mercy on me.
Tuesday, March 23
Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and celebration again; let the bones you crushed rejoice once more. Hide your face from my sins; wipe away all my guilty deeds! (Psalm 51:7-9)
Renewal comes from God, and renewal can take so many forms. One of the ways in which we can frame renewal is through baptism. When we baptize babies, children, and adults, and when we remember our baptisms, we are naming that God is a renewing God who makes us new and whole.
When we encounter rituals that remind us of who we are and who God is, we are participating in God’s path for renewal. It can be incredibly powerful to engage in rituals of renewal after a big change in one’s life. Transitions in family, work, home situations, and the like can leave us looking backward while facing forward. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is okay to grieve, and it is okay to be able to look ahead and into renewal.
If you have had experiences that have emotionally, physically, or spiritually made you ask God to “let me hear joy and celebration again,” consider how God’s grace has led you toward a sense of renewal. Lent is an opportunity to lean into renewal and see how God encourages us to honestly ask God to make us new.
Prayer: Sustaining God, renew my life in this day.
Wednesday, March 24
Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! Please don’t throw me out of your presence; please don’t take your holy spirit away from me. Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)
There is a reason why teenagers and young adults often go through periods of reinvention and renewal. Shedding an outward look or persona to claim a new identity is a way of moving from the old to the new. Even celebrities and social media personalities jump into renewal as a way to restart a brand or to gain a new following. When we think about renewal in the context of our faith, we can see that God gives us a way to leave behind our past and become a new being.
Part of asking God for renewal is an acknowledgment that we don’t deserve God’s grace. While God created us to be good, we cannot earn salvation on our own. The path to renewal is a way for us to return to God and ask to be made new through God’s power and not through our own means.
Asking for a new spirit and a clean heart is a way to set aside the ego and to claim God as the priority in one’s life. Are you at a point where you need to ask God for renewal? It is a humbling ask, but it is always available to us, freely given because God is faithful.
Prayer: Lord, create a clean heart for me and sustain me with your willing spirit.
Thursday, March 25
During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
It can be problematic to assume that suffering comes from God, and that suffering is intended to teach us obedience. If this were the case, then abuse is sanctioned by God; racism, sexism, and discrimination are holy; and brokenness in our personal lives and community spheres is intended to “teach us a lesson.” That said, sometimes when we experience hardship, we have our eyes opened to what it means to be truly obedient to God and live in response to God’s grace.
As a child, I had a lot of problems with asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. While I don’t struggle with asthma as an adult, it seems like every illness I catch, big or small, ends up in my lungs. The inability to breathe and sleep well is a particularly disturbing form of suffering. Everyone has experienced some sort of suffering, whether it be physical pain or emotional strife. Renewal is what comes after suffering. Sometimes the renewal comes as an ending. Sometimes it comes from a new awareness of personal or community brokenness. God encourages us to lament and grieve even as we move toward renewal.
Prayer: For the suffering I face, O God, help me to look for your renewal.
Friday, March 26
Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever.” (John 12:23-25)
Renewal is described as a new path forward. For people who have already been baptized, we often celebrate a remembrance of baptism. Whether this takes place in a large worship service, in a small group, or as part of personal reflection, we must know that renewal includes both the individual and the community.
Jesus’s words in today’s scripture talk about a multiplication model of ministry and discipleship. When we focus inwardly and try to hold tightly to what we want for ourselves and ourselves alone, we are isolated, and we miss the opportunity for God to work in us and through us. But when we put our own desires aside and allow the self-centered parts of ourselves to die, we open up the door for God to bring new life and to multiply the good that was growing just beneath the surface.
Consider how God is calling you in this time to move away from personal glorification and toward multiplying your connections. Do you love parts of your life in a way that keeps you from turning toward the renewal God has in store for you?
Prayer: Convict me of selfishness, Lord, and help me to choose you.
Saturday, March 27
“Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time.” (John 12:27)
The problem with evil is the conflict that if God is all good, all powerful, and all loving, why do bad things happen in the world? There is no simple answer to this age-old question. We even see Jesus struggle as he talked to a crowd about his imminent death: “I am deeply troubled. What should I say?”
Sometimes we have to move toward brokenness and difficulty in order to bring about renewal. Making a change usually means letting go of something old in order to bring in the new. God’s renewal is about completely changing the world so that the least become those who are lifted up. God’s renewal is also wrapped up in the redemption of the cross. We would not have the resurrection—the ultimate renewal—without the journey to the cross.
Jesus’s very human words and emotions come through in this scripture. I appreciate his honesty. Jesus knows that in order to bring about renewal, he must take the path that leads to the cross and the humbling of himself as a servant, rather than a king. As we prepare to take the journey to the cross, consider how God is urging you to move from control to servanthood. What are you being asked to lay down so that you can be renewed?
Prayer: Creator of All, be with me as I submit to your renewal.