The Challenge of Lent

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the season of Lent. For many people around the world it will be just another Wednesday with whatever Wednesday involves in their particular context. For Followers of Jesus, Lent marks the beginning of a journey, a 40 day journey in which they try to connect into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

What do these events mean? What are their significance today over 2000 years after they took place? What does it look like for me as a follower of Jesus to do so in the age in which I live? Is there anything in my life that might encourage or persuade others to follow Him? Is there anything I have discovered about Jesus in my life and experience to date that might make me want to share those discoveries with other people?

I like the introduction to the service for Ash Wednesday in the Book of Common Prayer, which is a prayer book used in my particular denomination. It sets out Lent in its historical context to try to explain why we do certain things and take on certain practices at this time of year.

It says this, ‘Since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. It became the custom of the church to prepare for this by a season of penitence and fasting.

At first, this season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for baptism at Easter and by those who were to be restored to the Church’s fellowship from which they had been separated through sin. In the course of time the church came to realise that, by a careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and  the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord to observe a Holy Lent, by self examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.’

It’s this aspect of reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word that we hope to focus on in our church this Lent. I’m going to be presenting it somewhat differently to how I had originally planned. The videos I had thought of using during our Thursday night services will not be used, but I will be offering the link to those who might wish to explore them at home.

We will be learning about a way of reading the Bible called Lectio Divina, which invites us to hear and discern God speaking to us through its words and its pages.

Someone recently spoke to me about the struggles they had with reading the Bible. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to, nor that they hadn’t tried, but the whole process seemed to offer much more strain and struggle than spiritual life. That’s quite a normal response from very genuine people who want to take on this spiritual discipline which we are told is so important. My hope and prayer is that this material, compiled from a powerful book called ‘How to Hear God’ by Pete Greig, will be helpful on this journey through Lent.

When I was growing up, it was quite commonplace for people to give up something for Lent. It might have been sweets and chocolate. It might have been alcohol or sugar in their tea. The idea was that to deny yourself some of life’s little luxuries or treats would somehow make you appreciate all that Jesus went through in His own period of testing or temptation in the wilderness.

I think there is value in denying ourselves, though I always approach the season with dread, if I’m honest. You miss those little treats that punctuate your week and it feels like an effort to bring our spiritual life to the forefront of our thoughts. It can also be like New Year’s resolutions, a stick we use to beat ourselves up about our lack of progress or staying power. We can feel terribly guilty about accepting a sweet or biscuit handed to us when visiting someone’s home who is totally oblivious to our self imposed discipline!

What I’d like to suggest, for those who are interested, is to give Lent a go. It doesn’t matter so much what discipline you take on or do for this season of 40 days, but please do something.

Maybe, for you, it’s going to be trying out this spiritual discipline of regular Bible reading for 10 minutes a day using this technique called Lectio Divina? Maybe you are going to give up the cakes and chocolate and alcohol or any combination of them? Maybe you are going to try to go for a daily 15 minute walk to clear your head and say ‘thank you’ to God for some of the good things in your life, or to pray for people you know, or situations around the world in need of God’s help right now. Maybe you are going to try to live a bit more simply over the next 40 days?

There’s a very powerful series of daily videos on the diocesan website on the subject of ‘transformation’ featuring stories from parishes, including our own, which are well worth a watch. They begin on Ash Wednesday.

Many years ago, I visited a Christian community for adults with learning disabilities called the Larche community. I subsequently went to live in such a community for a year, which changed my life in a very powerful way. My memory of the visit, which took place on a Tuesday evening, was that the community had decided to have a simple meal every Tuesday. There had been an earthquake in Haiti at that time which had caused severe damage to their community house in the city of Tegucigalpa. The Larche community in Dublin were sending the cost of their normal meal to support the rebuilding of that house in Tegucigalpa. They also made the decision to eat their meal of soup and bread on Tuesdays in silence as a sign of solidarity with the suffering in their sister community. It wasn’t a solemn or miserable meal in any way. It spoke volumes to me as a visitor in ways that words never could of how we can be connected and live simply and pray for each other.

If you can join us on Wednesday, we will be celebrating Holy Communion at 10.30 am to mark the beginning of Lent. Our midweek Lenten services will begin on Thursdays at 7.30 pm and, for the duration of Lent, our online prayer meeting will be suspended.

This coming Sunday there will be a collection channelled through the Bishop’s Appeal to assist with the relief operation following the recent earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, if people wish to contribute. All proceeds from Sunday’s soup lunch in the hall will be going to this very worthy cause.

Don’t forget, if you have any children or grandchildren, to join us in the hall for Messy Church on Friday from 3.30-5pm, where there will be crafts, music, a talk and some food. It’s always a brilliant afternoon.

May you have a blessed Lent and look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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