Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts…that we may obtain of you, God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness… .
from the Collect for Ash Wednesday, The Book of Common Prayer
The word remission is not often used today except in reference to disease, such as cancer, and its response to treatment. Remission in that sense is defined in two ways: Complete remission refers to the disappearance of the disease; partial remission is when the activity of the disease shrinks but it does not completely disappear. In matters of church and theology, remission denotes forgiveness or pardon of our disobedience to God, a cancellation of sins by God’s grace. But as you know, disobedience to God’s will, which is sin, is always around and in us, continually returning.
As a cancer survivor, I am grateful for remission, which allows me, even if it is just for today, to live free of that disease and my fear of it, to have hope and to live fully this day. Yet I do not consider myself cured, for there is always the possibility it may recur. We live with cancer. So, too, do we live with sin. But while not everyone with cancer or other serious illnesses or maladies will have the experience of remission, we do all have access to remission from sin.
Ash Wednesday begins the solemn season of Lent, and the collect for that day speaks of “perfect” remission. Perfect remission is complete beyond our understanding or merit. It is perfect by satisfying all that is required. To me, that means perfect freedom. I am freed from carrying the burdens of my disobedience to God, my failure, my pain and the pain I cause others by things I’ve done or left undone this day. I am free to begin anew again with God, each day, each moment. God’s perfect remission is a total release. It gives us perfect forgiveness and perfect freedom; we are liberated from ourselves by God’s own action, if only we seek it and allow it to transform us. We are freed to place God, and God’s Spirit, at the very center of our being and our activity. Lent tells us that we already have freedom from all which separates us from God. God gives us freedom because God loves you and me. The power of love is remission. It is freedom. Available to us this day. Each day. Every moment. Perfectly.
I invite you into the observance of a Holy Lent.
The Rt. Rev. Gayle Elizabeth Harris