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Lent And How To Give It Up

The 40 Days of Lent

The 40 Days of Lent

This morning I finished my Parochial Placement with St Thomas’ church in Fair Oak and Horton Heath. It has been a useful and at times challenging experience with much to reflect on; but more of that in a later blog. However, today, Ash Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to preach at their 10am morning communion service and I took my reading from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Today sees the beginning of the Lenten season, when we concentrate our thoughts on the journey toward the cross. I would hope that our focus is always centred on the passion of Christ and ultimately his resurrection, but for the next few weeks we are asked to try to set aside and deny ourselves some of life’s worldly pleasures. But how might we do that?

Well I wonder how many of us have started the day having already been shriven? … In order to be shriven we need to have made a confession – a confession that we’ve not always got things right; that we’ve held back our love from those most in need of it; that we’ve failed to live up to what is expected of us as followers of Christ.

Do we need to shout out how sorry we are from the rooftops? No, our confession is to be done quietly, honestly and simply between God and ourselves and although he already knows everything we’ve done, by admitting it before him he will know just how repentant we are. We need to have done this so that we can approach Lent unburdened, forgiven and with open hearts and minds.

Of course a good many people have translated this unburdening to mean an emptying of the larder… To deny ourselves all the goodies such as sugars and fats in chocolates, biscuits, cakes, etc.  I suspect that fewer people would have known yesterday as Shrove Tuesday – rather it was Pancake Day – and jolly nice they were too!

But we shouldn’t feel smug that we know it more than as a chance to lose a few pounds in weight, because it is hard to give up things we love; and don’t you find that the more we deny ourselves the more the shops, magazines and television seems to be full of images and examples of our favourite treats – no wonder we might look dismal instead of joyful.

I wonder also if we don’t – and you’ll pardon the pun – ‘make a meal of it.’ How many times when we’ve been offered a forbidden treat have we answered ‘Oh I can’t eat … I’ve given it up for Lent’ thus declaring to the world how good we’re being, rather than a simple ‘No thank you.’

This period is also a time for considering offering financial support with a donation to a charity or cause – perhaps with the money we’ve saved on buying all those goodies?  Maybe there’s a special Lent appeal, or Lent programme that puts a cost against the many blessings we already receive – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in doing something like that – in fact I would encourage us all to take this opportunity to review our sacrificial giving – but an anonymous donation will mean so much more than an official thank you note.

We undertake this journey with Christ just as his disciples did on that first Lenten journey and I don’t expect Jesus was worried about how much sugar the disciples were putting on their breakfast cornflakes. He was more concerned that they understood what was going to happen, what they needed to know about and how they were going to continue his work – because time was running out.

We also only have a limited time, and I don’t just mean these six weeks, the rest of the year or even our lifetime, in which to make a difference and to really appreciate what we are being called to do. That time starts right now when we need to draw closer to God and so begin to gather up those imperishable treasures of goodness, mercy and love. In that way we will not only discover our own hearts but God’s as well.

Amen

I would like to finish by reading you a poem called Lenten Days

Lentern Window

Lenten Window – from the old to the new – from death to life

Consolation and Desolation

Light and Shadow together

Light and Shadow together

Consolation and Desolation… two words that I came across during a Spirituality Day recently held in college. In relation to Ignatian Spirituality they are used to help us discern which direction our life is taking us – is it toward God (consolation) or away from him (desolation).

Consolation also brings us closer to people, so that we are aware of their joys and sorrows and shows us where God is active, both in our life and theirs. It charges us with energy, so that we become more creative and our focus is away from ourselves. Whereas desolation, cuts us off from people, so that we turn in on ourselves. We are bombarded by negative feelings and become withdrawn, totally drained of energy and unable to sustain an interest in those things that previously had meaning for us.

It’s deeper than just being aware of the things that make us happy and trying to do more of them and avoiding the things that make us sad.  It’s more about having an understanding that there will be both moments of consolation and desolation in our lives; but that in wishing to draw closer to God, even if negative doubts seem overwhelming, God’s will for us ensures that our hearts, both God’s and our own, continue to beat in harmony.

It is also possible that these moments will occur simultaneously. This fact was brought home to me as we listened to a piece of music. The choir were singing a psalm and the different voices oscillated between the clear high notes of the trebles and resonant, low tones of the baritones and basses as they exchanged verses. Yet even as the one range sang, the other did not remain silent, but was still audible if muted

As this thought occurred my eye was also caught by one of the trees outside, its leaves filling the frame of the window, as the wind shook them and light and shadow danced together. On a sunlit day this produced a feeling of warmth and happiness as the large leaves absorbed and reflected the light, but I could also imagine on a wet, winter day, the dark bare branches would be oppressive and shadowy. Yet in both scenarios neither light nor dark was completely absent

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
John 1:5

My mind then raced to think of other examples where the presence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ might not only be present, but might be necessary for us to appreciate the need for both to exist concurrently. Things such as batteries, where positive and negative terminals have to be present in order for power to flow through it. Or when racing a car on a track, where the exhilaration of driving at high speeds needs to be tempered by a fear of the consequences of crashing and so teaches us to develop braking and manoeuvring skills. Of maybe even a margarita cocktail where the combination of saltiness and sourness adds to the whole experience!

The thrills of racing

The thrills of racing tempered by the need for safety

We only need to think of the disciples at Easter. Theirs was utter desolation as they abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and had to deal with their fear and response to what they had done; yet just like Peter, they kept their focus on God,  so that their and our consolation came through the cross.

Yet even as we acknowledge that there will be consolation and desolation in our own lives, if we continue to maintain our focus on looking toward God then our consolation should never remain self-centred – there are many other directions in which God is trying to catch our eye!

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul

Make Me A Channel of Your Peace – Temple
© Copyright 1967 OCP Publications