The Nature of Grace: To Begin Again

by Rev. Paul Escamilla, Senior Pastor

On the last Sunday in March, Lent will gift us with a lost and found story. A wayward son finds himself in an awful state of being before returning home to begin life again under the compassionate sway of his father’s forgiving love (Luke 15). Simply put, it’s a story about beginning again by means beyond our own. If we live long enough, we will eventually experience in some way or another something—a disease, a family situation, a destructive lifestyle, an institutional crisis, a personal loss, an unwelcome circumstance—from which we need to return, or more to the point, be returned.

It is the experience of being returned that is the realm of grace. One of my understandings of grace is expressed in the phrase “not all of this is me.” It describes one of the ways we come to be reawakened to life after disorientation, turmoil, loss, or death: something else, something beyond us, has had a hand in our awakening. When we discover that the work of our rescue or recovery or rehabilitation, the rebuilding of our lives—that these activities are not altogether our own doing, this is when we have discovered grace as a life-saving reality rather than merely a pretty word in the church’s vocabulary.

We call Jesus’ story in Luke the parable of the prodigal son; a more obvious title, by the story’s end, would be the parable of the compassionate father. Why did Jesus have such an interest in telling stories like this one – stories about people reaching into our lives in loving ways to deliver us back from a place of brokenness or despair – or us doing so for one another? Maybe he was simply narrating his own ministry – and the ministry we take up in his name – by which the lost are found, the broken mended, the forgotten remembered, and those who were as good as dead brought back to life. “God has a secret with humanity,” Elie Wiesel once wrote. “It is not the secret of how to begin. It is the secret of how to begin again.” At the heart of that secret is a certain sort of love that reaches out to summon us, lift us, lead us back to life. The name we sometimes give that certain sort of love is grace.

Grace and peace,