On December 7, 1970, during a state visit to Warsaw, German Chancellor Willy Brandt visited a monument for Jewish victims of the Warsaw Ghetto, and after laying down a wreath, he spontaneously knelt.
This physical act of humility and penance, known globally as Kniefall von Warshau (German for Warsaw Genuflection), stirred the world and advanced reconciliation for Germany and her victims. As a youth, Willy Brandt actively resisted Hitler as part of the anti-Nazi underground, which made the act even more surprising to the German public and the world. A reporter wrote, “Then he who does not need to kneel knelt, on behalf of all who do need to kneel but do not--because they dare not, or cannot, or cannot dare to kneel.” 1
In Mark 1:14-15, Jesus’s first proclamation is “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” God has fulfilled His promise to the Jews by sending His son, the Messiah. The kingdom of God is imminent, and we must “repent and believe the good news.”
What is repentance? The greek word for repentance, metanoia, means “to change one’s mind.”
In the Old Testament, Israelites repented for their disobedience to God with physical gestures--fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and singing songs of lament. In Joel 2, God commands them, “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to me with all your heart. Our Father’s words are full of longing and desire.
Rituals of repentance are intended to tear our hearts, to change our minds, and to bring us back to God. R.C. Sproul explains, “In this metanoia, this changing of the mind, the direction of my life was radically altered. Before metanoia, before the repentance of conversion, one’s life is moving away from God . . . From the moment of our conversion, our lives are moving in a different direction, back toward God.”2
Jesus doesn’t stop there. Repentance is bound with faith in God’s redeeming grace through Jesus Christ. Our penitence for our sins is preceded by God’s forgiveness and love. David sings of both in Psalm 51--”create in me a pure heart,” followed by “restore to me the joy of your salvation.”
Individual and corporate repentance are marked throughout Scripture with Paul’s conversion and the confessional prayers of Daniel, Nehemiah and Jeremiah for the sins of the Israelites. How should we at Church of the Advent individually and corporately repent for our disordered desires, the racial and gender brokenness of our neighborhoods and country, our materialism and exploitation of God’s people and His creation, and the ways we consistently turn away from God and His will? How can we glorify God to our neighbors and all nations by rending our hearts and transforming our entire beings?
As we draw near to God this season of Lent, let us repent individually and corporately for the “things we have done and left undone.” Let that repentance change our entire beings and return our hearts to God. And out of His abundance love and grace, let that life-altering repentance bear fruit (Luke 3:8).
Karynna Asao serves on the Parish Council as your People’s Warden. She originates from the 50th state and lives in Woodley Park with her six housemates.
1 Schreiber, Hermann. “Ein Stück Heimkehr.” Der Spiegel, 1970, http://magazin.spiegel.de/EpubDelivery/spiegel/pdf/50110009.
2 Sproul, R.C. What is Repentance. (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014).