Thursday, December 15, 2016

Purify Our Conscience

Last night, we concluded an Advent Wednesday-night series that focused on collects and how that particular form of prayer (address + acknowledgment + petition + aspiration + pleading) has the power to transform our fears into hope. It was lively. It was personal. Individuals were invited to create their own collects in response to global, local, and personal concerns. Through it all, my appreciation for prayer, liturgy, and community were all deepened. Another happy consequence of that series is that I can't help but notice what we say when we pray the collect each week.

This Sunday, in a collect that does not conform to the five-part structure of traditional collects, we will ask God to "purify our conscience." Think about that for a second. We ask God not to purify our hearts, not to purify our minds, not to purify our lives, but to purify our consciences. To what end is that prayer uttered?

If repentance is a change of heart and change of life--a turning away from sin and back to God--then a purified conscience is the clear and receptive inner-being that results from that repentance and the forgiveness that is given. We repent. God forgives. And now we pray that our conscience would be pure.

The fruit of that repentance is not only forgiveness in God's eyes, which I would argue was already given in the first place, but also the pure, spotless, guilt-free conscience that is our receptivity to God and God's plan for our life. When we repent and when God forgives, that reality of being forgiven--the state of having been made righteous--is the pure conscience that we seek in this collect.

And notice how that purified conscience is given: by God's daily visitation. I don't believe in sanctification (a conversation for another post), but I do believe that the power and reality and transformation that the gospel has had in our lives takes time to take hold in our consciences. We doubt that love. We doubt that grace. We doubt that forgiveness. Of course we do! How could we ever accept at face value that God loves us without any regard for our failures? And, as we pray in this week's collect, that purification of our consciences happens as God comes and visits us and lives with us every day.

When our consciences are purified of guilt and fear, we are the mansion prepared for Jesus Christ at his coming. We cannot be ready to receive Jesus until our consciences are pure, and our consciences are pure when God comes and visits us daily, and we notice God coming to visit us daily when we repent and are forgiven. Repent. Be forgiven. See God coming every day. Be purified. Receive Jesus. That's what we believe. That's what we pray. We're close to the end of Advent but not so close that we skip over this part. We've heard the call to repent in preparation for the coming of Christ. Linger in this collect long enough to hear the call to be purified of guilt so that we may be ready to receive him.

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