Lent is misunderstood, even by those of us who should know better. Sadly, we are just as likely to see giving up chocolate as a sufficient response. In fact, Lent is about preparation, which involves examination of our lives and where we should be allowing God more power, which may mean giving up some things and beginning other things. And it is about power-the power we cling on to-God does not overwhelm us, instead wanting a response of love and surrender.
During Lent we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness-he did not respond with force but by complete dependence on God. Throughout Jesus’ life we can see he spent many hours alone with God in silence, not just because he was the Son of God but because he chose to have a relationship through prayer with God. He expects us to do the same, although we are weak- remember how he chides the disciples in Gethsemane when they fall asleep as he struggles in prayer ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?’ Matthew 26:40.
Most people find silence very hard as it forces us to face up to what is really in our minds and sometimes it can be the sheer triviality of it all that appals us. Once we manage to still ourselves, we realise our minds are full of the small events and chores of the day, the constant noise of the media in all its forms and our own grudges and resentment often surface as well.
Silence and sitting in the presence of God must be cultivated and there are many books and resources to help us do this, not least the rich heritage of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, which unlike the Protestant tradition never lost the knowledge and practice of contemplative prayer.
The world is full of overwhelming noise and pressure, antagonism and poisonous hatred which seems to be becoming mainstream. A group of people living in the 3rd to the 5th centuries thought so as well and began to live in the deserts of North Africa to get away from it. Known as the Desert Mothers and Fathers, their spirituality is being sought out again by Christians desperate for a way to live the gospel of peace. One of their number, St. Anthony, said ‘A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us’.
The desert might be metaphorical for us today but it is more necessary than ever to go into it willingly and seek to be transformed for the sake of the world that God loves.
In undergoing this transformation, we empty ourselves and show the beauty of God’s love and bring peace to our world. We can do this by taking Lent to be more mindful of what we buy, how we spend our time, what we read. We can bring God’s peace with a smile, a listening ear, a loaf of bread baked, a donation made, a letter written, a job done for someone who cannot repay us. There are a thousand other ways God will show us if we stop to listen in the silence.
This week's blog has been written by Kirsty, Parish Administrator for All Saints and also an ordinand in training.
Resistance begins in Lent.
Lent begins this Wednesday the 6th March, Ash Wednesday. Many of us are familiar with Lent in terms of giving things up, chocolate and alcohol being favourites. The church marks Lent from Ash Wednesday until Easter Saturday to remind the church of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness happened immediately after his baptism and at the beginning of his public ministry. Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe Jesus’ temptation, with the somewhat disturbing statement that he was not forced by the devil but “led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”. We do not want to be led into temptation, praying specifically in the Lord’s Prayer that we will not be. A better translation is probably “Lead us not into a time of trial, or testing”. Of course, Jesus himself taught us the prayer, knowing that in our weakness we will struggle to resist as he did. The other interesting point is that the gospels record that the devil only began to tempt Jesus at the end of the forty days and nights, when he was starving and exhausted. Another way of looking at this is that when we are forced by circumstance to rely on God or more accurately, realise our complete dependence on God, then we are able to do more than we thought possible because we stop taking control and getting in the way of what God wants us to do.
Jesus resisted the devil in three ways: when the devil urged him to turn stones to loaves of bread, Jesus reminds him of the bigger picture, by quoting scripture “It is written, One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” In other words, satisfying only our immediate material needs does not lead to Life in all its fullness. In a wider sense Jesus calls us to look beyond our own lives, families, careers, racial, religious or social groupings to listen to God’s word for the whole of humanity and creation. Simply “looking after our own” is not an option for followers of Jesus.
Secondly, when the devil tempted Jesus to throw himself from the temple to be saved by angels, Jesus replied “Again it is written, do not put the Lord your God to the test” Here the devil is quoting scripture (Psalm 91) to Jesus. How often are we tempted to make a grand gesture or do something we know may harm ourselves or others rather than truly doing God’s will, believing that God will somehow retrieve us from the mess.
Finally, the devil stops beating around the bush and tries a full-on bribe, promising Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he falls down and worships him. Jesus replies with a sharp rebuke to match the bribe: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, worship the Lord your God and serve only him” Although the devil’s attempt seems like an obvious ploy, sadly humans are not immune to this kind of temptation. Although it appears the crudest and most obvious temptation on one level, the temptation of power can also take subtle forms, especially when we start to justify it as promoting our faith like some American Christians who see the Trump administration as somehow ordained by God. We follow Jesus who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” (Philippians 2:6-7), therefore we take the powerless way of servanthood to each other and God.
Many of us will give something up for Lent but perhaps we could also practice resistance against the forces of evil that are prevalent in our world today, both blatant and subtle.
Some people who may inspire you: Rosa Parks, who was tired and worn out but found the strength to resist discrimination in the American South during the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama Parks refused the bus driver’s order to relinquish her seat in the "coloured section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.
Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, given the 2018 Nobel Peace prize for resisting power and the forces of shame. The physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticised the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war. Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq and herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.
More locally, peace activist Paul Haines, who has resisted the world’s constant warring by walking for peace from Rome to Jerusalem in 2015 and organises events every year for World Peace Day right here in Truro.
We can build resistance into our days in small ways too, indeed we must begin and continue with this to make it part of the fabric of our lives. In an atmosphere of increasing hate and suspicion of “others”, simply being open and friendly can become an act of resistance-chat to someone at the bus stop, gently challenge the untruths you hear in conversation if necessary and consciously replace judgement with love next time you catch yourself judging others. Resist the forces of commercialisation and over-industrialisation by making a garden, growing food, buying less. The possibilities are endless and you will think of your own Godly resistance to evil that expresses the unique way that God shows His love through you.
Step out boldly whatever you do, for Jesus says “take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)
This month's blog was written by Kirsty who works for All Saints as our Parish Administrator.
Five things you might want to give up for lent.
1. Give up the past tense for Lend.
2. Give up, giving up things for Lent.
3. Give up new year’ s resolutions.
4. Give up procrastination next Lent.
5. Give up making lists.
When we talk about religion we very rarely talk about freedom. For most people the last thing that religion leads to is freedom. For centuries religion has been synonymous with the law, with order, with structure, with boundaries and limitations. Some would argue that religion is a gift, that when accepted wholeheartedly, and with gratitude it brings life to the soul, body, mind and spirit. However, since Jesus’ death and resurrection, despite religion emerging as the defining force in culture, church, society and law, scripture suggests that Jesus came to abolish religion not to establish it! How is it then that although the Church of Christ is larger and more numerous than it has ever been (2.23 billion worldwide), we find that religion is still the defining force of what we do as a church?
For many in this country, turning to God has become more difficult. Believing in God is often seen as a limitation on freedom, not the spiritual and physical liberation that it claims. Is Lent just another example of ‘religion’ rather than freedom in Christ that the early apostles proclaimed?
I know this might sound controversial but Jesus didn’t come so we could clear out our larders on Shrove Tuesday! St Paul insists, in his letter to the Romans, that Jesus replaced the ‘law of religion’ with the ‘law of the Spirit’, and that through the Spirit we are set free (Romans 8:1-4). Unfortunately, Lent has become a time for physical detox, when we hope to improve ourselves in some way; but actually Lent is more about freedom and joy than it is about austerity and detox. It is true that Lent is meant to reflect the wilderness experience of Jesus but you’ll remember that just before those 40days in the wilderness, John the Baptist said “Repent”, which means “Turn to God”. Turning to God is the most freeing thing we can do. When we turn to God we rediscover the personal relationship that God longs to have with us. And so instead of Life/Lent being bound by religious or even cultural obligations it becomes uninhibited and liberated by the love of the One who came to save us.
If you are to give up anything for Lent this year, why not give up the often religious or cultural observances that are popular at this time of year, and instead give in to God. And with it I pray that you will know the joy and freedom of His companionship, and love for you.
May the freedom of Christ be with you and all whom you love. Jeremy.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.