At the moment, we’re in the season of Lent in Church – a time of penitence and prayer when people traditionally give up some treats, like chocolate, as a small sign of humility and sacrifice as we reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus, giving his life for us on Good Friday. We think too during this time of Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days (hence Lent is also a period of 40 days). I heard of one local Church where they are giving up colour for the last week of Lent in their online services! They are holding all their Holy Week services on the internet in black and white only – a modern take on the tradition of removing flowers and decorations from Church in Holy Week!
Maybe, like me, you feel that you’ve already been forced by Covid to give up a lot more than you would have liked to! Giving up meeting with friends or family, giving up going on holiday or favourite pastimes, even giving up coming to Church!
But Lent comes with the promise and hope that Easter will come! The promise that things will change. The promise that the crucified Jesus will rise to new life – that the desolation and blackness of Good Friday will turn to full colour joy and radiance of Easter Sunday. Perhaps like me, the sunny weekend that we just had gave a glimpse of just that prospect. The Spring-like temperatures and the budding flowers combined to encourage my hope that we may finally exit the pandemic over the coming months. The vaccination program is going well, the rate of infection and numbers in hospital is falling. There is hope ahead of a relaxing of the restrictions we are having to live under. The prospect of freedom to do the things and see the people we have missed is on the horizon.
I am told that our word for ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo Saxon name for the month of March, ‘Lencten Monat’, or ‘Lengthen Month’, so called because it is the month in which the hours of daylight noticeably lengthen. Lent, for all the darkness of a penitential season, beckons us to the light.
Perhaps that will serve as a parable of the larger truth, that for us, as for our Saviour, the only path to glory is through sacrifice and suffering. There is no shortcut to Easter joy: we have first to embrace the difficult times of life. Our eternal destiny in heaven is spacious indeed, and light: ‘The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb’ (Revelation 22.23). But in this life, we are called to patient endurance.
So as we continue through this passing time, may God give you grace to deny yourselves, to take up your cross and to follow the Lord, who is life and light.
Rev Chris Stebbing (With thanks to Bishop Pete)