Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children:
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
This year for our God in Your Inbox series, we will be reading and reflecting on the Epistle lesson assigned by the Lectionary for each day of Lent. The vast majority of these lessons are taken from letters (epistles) written by St. Paul. Many of them predate the Gospels, and they are some of the oldest Christian texts in existence. Most of these letters were written by Paul to deal with specific issues faced by the earliest Christian communities in places like Rome and Corinth. However, they are part of the New Testament because Christians all over the world have always found them valuable and insightful far beyond the specific context for which they were written. In them we see Paul’s theology, his understanding of the saving activity of Jesus Christ, and his advice as to how Christians should live and work together. They represent a rich part of our Christian heritage. Having said all that, our lesson today comes from one of the letters most probably not written by Paul. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is actually unknown, but scholars believe it was written around the year 65 to a community of Jewish Christians.
This lesson is especially appropriate for Ash Wednesday as the author encourages his/her readers to – lay aside the sin that clings so closely so that we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us. On this first day of Lent, we are reminded that our lives are weighed down by sin, that we are in need of confession, and that our God invites us to repent and start anew. Our sense of guilt, our sense of doing the things we should not do, and our failure to do the things we should, weigh heavily on our souls. They slow us down and only God can remove their burden. All we are asked to do is to realize our need and to fall on our knees and ask God for forgiveness. We worship the God of second chances, the God who wants nothing more than to wash us clean and surround us with love.
Faithful God, your love is greater than I can imagine. I have hurt others – by what I have done and what I have not done, by what I have said and what I have not said. You forgive me even before I’ve done something wrong – not so that I will hurt others, but so that when I do, I can turn around and come back to you. I have sinned and I am sorry. Forgive me. Amen.