Repentant Joy

In preparation for yesterday’s sermon, at one point along the way I found myself pondering the following sentence offered during the Eucharistic Prayer in the midst of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper:

“With repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and His blood on the cross.”

That’s a strange sentence. It’s peculiar because within it, the petitioners fashion the words “repentant” and “joy” into a singular, personal descriptor.

At first thought, repentance would seem to bear an edge, to be the cutting result of receiving the harder news about oneself, a response acted out in humility, a response borne from a penetrating sorrow for Sin, a full-throated acknowledgement of who we are and what we’ve done. Joy, on the other hand, paints a portrait of one who bounds along without burden, happily unconcerned with the sorrowful things and smiling as though gravity is imaginary and the sun will never set.

In the swiftness of a prayerful moment, these two words seem to be the blending of passionate opposites—like the mixing of oil and water, darkness and light, pessimism and optimism.

To really get what’s behind their comradery, I suppose it’s imperative for us to first realize these words are aimed straight into our guts. In other words, as Christians, we own them in faith. But equally, as they burrow into us, they reach our center, grab hold, and then begin steering us intently toward the end of the sentence in which they dwell—to the sacrifice of Jesus for our Sin.

Both have their eyes set upon the crucified Savior.

The “repentant” half of the phrase reminds us the words aren’t careless. Life is not a bopping along with unconcerned steps. With the cross as the heading, we keep our footing and know our location. We’re bound to humility. We know that even as we live in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness of sins each and every day—that His love is given to us freely and fully—the work to accomplish our redemption wasn’t cheap. It was quite costly. The cross of Jesus Christ stands as the receipt for the dreadful expense. The image itself prompts the recognition that we are in daily need of what Christ won on that cross. Each day we fall short. Each day is encumbered by monsters—Sin, Death, the devil—all maneuvering to eat away at our inheritance as God’s children, and we should never take this lightly.

But deeper still, even as we live in this fallen world well aware of our jagged surroundings, the “joy” half of the phrase is an expression of Christian hope, a truth that knows the death of Jesus for our salvation as it meets with the “right now” but also the “not yet.” We are free to live in Christ right now knowing that our heavenly future is secure. By faith, as God’s beloved children, we are heirs of eternal life.

Repentant joy. Sounds good.

In my opinion, these words together are incredibly thick and immensely real, and even if they were spoken alone, they’d announce far more than the most eloquent and heartfelt pleas. In two words, we learn our identity as ones who live and breathe and move in this world with a joyful confidence located in the forgiveness won by Jesus for the world to come. Or perhaps another way—we live at the ready. We live knowing that in Christ we have the best of all things while remaining honest with ourselves, acknowledging that our Sin-nature knows this, too, and would see to it being snatched away.

I like the phrase “repentant joy,” and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be more intentional about using it in my daily prayers. I’m going to be a bit more concerted about asking that the Holy Spirit continue to work this in me.

In that Hour, Pray

A happy New Year to you and blessings!

So, did you make any resolutions for the New Year? I did, and by God’s grace, I hope to keep them. Making changes in life, especially when it feels like the changes go against the basic grains of one’s character, is really hard. Even the Lord acknowledged this to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and so in that same instance, the Lord urges us to pray for the strength of spirit to overcome the desires of the flesh.

Prayer.

How often do you pray? And I’m not so sure the slip-up on the icy patch of freeway where you repeated His name over and over again actually counts. Although, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for sure. Either way, the question still stands: How often do you pray?

I can say that I pray relatively often. You should expect that of your pastor, to be sure. I’ll add that I’ve been praying a lot more than usual these days, especially at the bedside of people living through special circumstances that call for the prayers of others. Pastor Jakob Heckert is one of those people. I pray there with him often. Almost daily, in fact.

But before I share more about that, let me get back to my original question one more time. How often do you pray? I hope it’s an everyday thing for you—or at least that it’s often. If you don’t, I don’t mean to make you feel guilty about it, however, I sure would suggest that you’re missing out on the opportunity to participate in the wonderfully free gift of speaking to the One who, as Isaiah said, made the entire cosmos, the One who made the stars and calls them all by name. The Creator of the world loves you, and He has opened Himself up to us in Jesus Christ in a way that allows us complete and total access to His throne of grace with any and all request. And ultimately, this has no lesser result than that He hears us, and He responds to the petition with that which will serve for our eternal life in Jesus.

For those of you who do pray fairly regularly, I’ll bet you have those times and places where it happens the most. For all others, I would suggest the same. Think on a place where you find yourself almost every day—whether it is in the car driving to work, before meals or bedtime, or any other time or place that you can think of—and make it a priority to speak with your God. If you don’t know what to say, grab a Lutheran Service Book and open up to page 305 (“Prayers, Intercessions, and Thanksgivings”). There are plenty of prayers from which to choose. Or you could pray the best prayer that was ever written: The Lord’s Prayer. Christ gave us that prayer for a reason, in one sense, because it is both centrifugal and centripetal in nature, that is it concerns itself with others around us while at the same time speaking to each and every concern that meets ourselves—and that’s pretty great, I think.

And while I’m on the subject, if you need help with devotional materials, let me know. I’m sure I could send you in the right direction for acquiring some good spiritual resources. Perhaps that could be your New Year’s resolution.

Anyway, I just got back from Pastor Heckert’s home a few minutes ago, and you should know that the end of his earthly journey is not far away. Still, even though his eyes have grown much dimmer and he struggles to speak, his line of sight to Christ is unhindered and his voice is confident. His last words to me today before he fell asleep were, first, that he loved me. I, of course, told him I loved him, too, because I do. It will be very hard to say goodbye when the hour comes. But then he said rather softly that he has no doubt, that he has certainty in the face of death. Then he went on to confess his faith several times—almost creedally, so—saying over and over that he believed in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and that he believed that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. And then he asked me to help him pray to this same God who loves him and was listening to his words. And so I did. We prayed several Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, I prayed several spontaneous prayers, and then it was Pastor Heckert who sort of brought it to a conclusion, and I think because he was having difficulty staying awake. Essentially, he said that he knew that he had lived, that he would die, but that in Christ he would never die. He said one more time that he has no doubts.

And then he fell asleep.

Imagine if God was closed off to us in such an hour.

But he isn’t. Go to Him. Speak to Him often. Even better, be present in worship where He gives the gifts of His forgiveness for the strengthening of a faith that knows without a doubt that His love is preserving and He will never let you go—not even at the hour of death. Don’t starve yourself of such confidence. Don’t neglect the right you’ve been given to approach God—to call Him “Father” and to know that you are His dear child.

Pray. He is listening. As His baptized child, you will always be someone for whom He has a care.