My favorite part of serving with our SHLC altar guild is setting up the sacred vessels on the altar right before worship. Pastor’s daughter, Sophia, often helps me, and one of the last things we do together is place 3 small, white purificator cloths at the base of the chalice. I like to think about how these special vessels and cloths have been set apart for use in Holy Communion.
Cleaning up after the service feels a bit more like a chore, I must admit, especially if the cloths are really stained. Sometimes I just soak them in water, with a drop of dish soap, to get the wine stains out. But lipstick stains, wiped from the chalice between servings, require more patient attention and closer inspection. Shadowy traces sometimes remain, no matter how I work at the stain. At some point I have to decide I’ve done enough, and that the cloth is either sufficiently clean for use again the next Sunday or that it needs to be replaced.
Because I’m one of those people who thinks (too) deeply about everything, I sometimes ruminate about the stain of sin while I’m scrubbing gently away at the cloths. What is the nature of sin? Why do I struggle with it? What should I do about it?
We don’t just stain ourselves when we sin. All of us, at times, hurt others also. I can spend too much time and energy trying to ignore or erase the traces that remain of the sins I have hurt others with, and of the sins they have hurt me with, or I can come to my Savior Jesus Christ and find forgiveness and healing. When I look at the Communion cloth, I remember that it’s not the stain of our sins but the blood of our Savior on there now. We are forgiven, washed clean! That’s the Easter message.
Lent is a special, set apart time when we look intently at how that came to be. We walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and see how He took our sin and suffering upon Himself. Before we celebrate how Jesus rose again to give us eternal life, we first remember how He died in our place on the cross.
We remember how He loved us.
Repentance is a big part of Lent. I remember how Jesus suffered and died for my own sin, and I bring that very personal remembrance to the foot of the cross. Repentance is a hard discipline, but one which brings such relief as I confess the truth of my sin to God and discover, right there, the truth of His unconditional love and forgiveness for me personally. This greater truth washes over me, like the waters of Baptism. Because of what Jesus has done for me, no sin can cling to me!