This should have been yesterday’s Lenten devotion.
1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.
3 Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. 9 To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him 10 and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him. 12 He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity. For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.
This is Daniel’s prayer for today, and like many of the great prayers of scripture, it is said in the plural. Not I, but we.
My favorite prayer in all of scripture, in Judges 10, finds Israel enslaved and oppressed by the Philistines and the Ammonites. Israel cried out, “We have sinned against you,” and God, for a moment, abandons Israel to its fate. “Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in your time of distress.” To which Israel responds with with despair or confidence or some measure of both:
We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day. (Judges 10:15)
We have sinned. Save us.
In Nehemiah 9, all Israel gathers to repent. We are slaves because of our sins, Israel says as it recounts the story of God’s calling, God’s redeeming from captivity, and the idolatry of their ancestors.
And when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, it is “our father” and “give us this day” and “lead us not into temptation.”
This is not some prayer of Jabez seeking selfish gain. This is not some magic talisman calling us to our best lives ever. This is not some contrite individual begging God for forgiveness. This is the whole people of God confessing its sin and seeking the promise of God’s redeeming grace.
One man is speaking, yes, but speaking for the whole people of God.
Daniel’s prayer is our condition. As we stand at the beginning of this 40 days of repentance, we remember — we remember — that we are not simply individuals, we are a people, called and gathered, lost and found, exiled and redeemed, waiting for the one who has and will deliver us from captivity. A captivity into which we have been delivered as a consequence of our sinfulness, our faithlessness, our inability to be the people God called us to be.
All of us. Not some, not many, but all of us. There is no righteous remnant that can claim to have survived the disaster because of its faithfulness.
There is no avoiding the calamity, no avoiding the price we pay for our sin, our idolatry, and our faithlessness. There is no avoiding the next 40 days, the path we must walk, the repentance we must do, and the place it leads us to.