Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. (Jeremiah 31:18 KJV)
And one of the malefactors which were hanged said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. (Luke 23:42 KJV)
We Christians rejoice that our Lord and God leads us to repentance and returns us ever again to crawl back into our Baptism. It’s worth noting that Luther describes it as a “crawling back”. That’s not a triumphant and victorious procession with military pomp and celebration – nothing much of walking tall as an Egyptian either. Getting down on ones knees and crawling to the baptismal font, where initially our sins were washed away, the Holy Spirit was poured over us richly and sanctifying, making us children of God and heirs of heaven. In Confession & Absolution the same happens – again: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Depart in peace +” Not much of development, not much advancement or so-called progress and climbing some sort of imaginary ladder of some sort! No – nothing like that. Rather a constant return to God’s baptismal grace (regressus ad baptismum!). Every day the old Adam is to be drowned in us “by daily contrition and repentance … to … die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism 4th Main Part – Sacrament of Holy Baptism – 4th Question) Essentially that is what Luther wrote in his first of the ninety five theses posted at Wittenberg in those reformational beginnings:
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Conversion is nothing else than turning back from the old, vain and wrongful ways and returning to the path the Lord would have us walk. No longer serving the idols of this world or the vain ideologies of our forebears, but rather walking in the light of the Lord – following his will and commandments, and receiving forgiveness, life and salvation from him in fullest measure. This however is solely by God’s grace and doing, that we are stopped in our tracks and turned around: Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. (Jeremiah 31:18 KJV) – Cleanse me and I will be clean etc. Going to the Lord’s supper we used to repeat the words of the Centurion: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Mt 8:8)
It reminds me of that old granny I recall in Enhlanhleni, where I was a regular guest at the Lord’s table after my confirmation – at least every first Sunday of the month. Well, that old granny was a regular too. She would sit in the first row up front, but would get down on all fours and having shod her shoes during the “Dala gimi inhliziy’ emhlope, Nkosi … ” (Offertory from Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart o Lord...) Altar of the Lord, she would draw near to the Altar when all others had returned to their seats. She would then receive the most precious body of Christ and his very true blood, which keeps and sustains us through the forgiveness of all our sins to life everlasting. It is the Lord, who makes the last be first and even those coming from the highways and byways are bidden to be seated at the Lord’s table. Together we then all join in the wonderful confession of St. Simeon (Indumiso kaSimeyoni):
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation
which Thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a Light to light on the Gentiles
And to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost,
As it was the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.