What are you doing for Lent? If someone asks you that, you know pretty much what they are expecting you to say - that just like last year you are going without sugar in your tea, without cake, without chocolate or even without alcohol! And why do we do it? Well the intention is surely in some way to embrace sacrifice and so identify with our Lord in his great sacrifice. But the leap of imagination from chocolate cake to Calvary is a really hard one to make.
The season of Lent coincides with spring and the wordLent may be related to the lengthening of the days at this time. So it is said that Lent is the springtime of the Church - its season of growth. So, doing something for Lent ought really to be about our growth as Christians into deeper faith and fuller Christian maturity. And how do we do this?
There is a model of Christian life in the Acts of the Apostles that is as fresh and relevant today as ever, and which we might reflect on through the days and weeks of Lent. ‘They continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. A sense of awe was everywhere' (Acts 2.42).
Here are four areas where we might make some progress this Lent. First, we renew our understanding of theteaching of the apostles by reading the scriptures, reflecting on how we understand faith and the profound truths that have been handed on to us. We might choose a good Lent book to study - the clergy are happy to offer suggestions.
Then comes the fellowship which means our engagement in the Christian community, and also perhaps the communities where we live and work. For the Christian, love for God means also love for our neighbour. This means that we can grow in love for God by being more loving to our neighbour. Dag Hammarskjold, a former Secretary General of the United Nations, said that,In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.
And thirdly, the breaking of bread. Clearly the Mass was central to the life of the earliest Christians and it is central to ours as well. In this extraordinary ordinary action we come into the place where Jesus stands and where he fills us with his presence. And through this sacrament, given to us on the night before he died, we not only receive Christ’s Body and Blood, we also receive his commission to be the vehicles of his loving presence in the world today. As we grow into a deeper understanding of the Mass we will find that faith takes root in our lives, and strengthens us to share that faith with others.
And finally, the prayers. Whatever else we may say about the Christian life, it is a life of prayer. And prayer takes time. There are plenty of aids to prayer, from formal structures we can use in church or at home, rosary beads we can carry with us through the day, or times spent alone when we discover the profound prayer of silence. Again, do ask the clergy if you would like some help with prayer - there is so much available to help us.
Throughout Lent at St Matthew’s we shall be exploring the theme of Commitment, and this one verse provides a wonderful framework for our reflection.
May we allow this Lent truly to be a springtime of faith for all of us - a season of growth. May we be inspired by the scriptures, spurred to greater love of one another, nourished by the Eucharist and sustained by prayer. So may we discover, as did the first disciples, that ‘a sense of awe was everywhere.’
With all good wishes
Fr Philip Chester
Vicar of St Matthew's