Friday, 19 February 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
As we entered Lent 2020 we were aware of the growing threat of the new Coronavirus that was sweeping the world. There was much talk of the precautions we might need to take, and churches were still open. This meant that the beginning of Lent 2020 began in the ’normal’ way. There were services which included the ritual Imposition of Ashes, there was talk of ‘giving things up for Lent’ and, on the First Sunday of Lent, we reflected on Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Over the last year we have endured at least 167 days without access to our churches. Baptisms, weddings and funerals have either not taken place or have had to be re-imagined and re-crafted. There has been no home visiting and we have seen the loneliness and isolation of loved ones. Rather than living in hope, we have lived in fear of catching or passing on the virus that has taken the lives of so many. Whatever notions we had of ‘the wilderness’ prior to the constraints of the last year, it has certainly taken on some sense of reality now.
The beginning of Lent 2021 finds us in a very different place, even though the spiritual message remains unchanged. On Wednesday we marked the beginning of Lent. There were two services, as in previous years. People who felt able to attend those services, as well as those who used our on-line and recorded resources, were encouraged to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word. There was no ritual Imposition of Ashes (physical contact is still banned) but I did remind those who were in church of the words used when that cross of ash is placed on our foreheads: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. All of these powerful words provide us with a road map for our journey through Lent 2021.
During the last year we have been bombarded with confused and confusing statistics and perpetual media speculation. Sadly, even the Church seems to have been part of this mayhem with talk of closing churches, reducing clergy numbers and all the other apocalyptic statements that have not served the community of faith well. The reality is that the Church is not dead, and nor is it dying. Like the rest of society it is journeying through a wilderness of confusion and inevitable change, but the issuing of its death certificate is very premature. As we enter the season of Lent we should not be diverted with the normal talk of ‘giving up’ or ‘taking up’. These are valuable companions for our Lenten pilgrimage, but they are not the whole story. Rather, our individual and collective journeys through Lent should be based on the words used at the Imposition of Ashes: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
With the passage of time and the development of our intellectual and practical skills, humanity seems to have come to the erroneous conclusion that it is invincible and immortal. It is not! All of our lives are finite (Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return). The important thing is for us to use the time we have wisely. As we wander through the wilderness of human life we need to focus on that which is important. We need to focus our energies in developing and maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ). How is that achieved? Simple: observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating upon God’s holy word. This Lent is different from any we remember but, then, so is every Lent! Our spiritual journey is always one of ups and downs. I pray that this year we might all make it a journey of true faith.
With every blessing to you all,