By the time you read this we will be well into the season of Lent, traditionally a time of reflection and penitence. Our Ash Wednesday services are marked by the 'imposition of ashes', as we kneel and receive the cross made in ash on our foreheads accompanied by the words: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.' In Lent, we recognise our mortality and total dependence on God for life itself, symbolised by dust. We recognise our shortcomings and our total dependence on God for forgiveness and spiritual life, symbolised by the ashes.
A 'Bright Sadness'
Each season of Lent asks us to embrace a spiritual gravity, a downward movement of the soul, a turning from our self-sufficiency and sinfulness. In such quiet turning we are humbled and thus made ready to receive from God a fresh and joyous grace. The Orthodox Church sees a 'bright sadness' in Lent akin to that of a prisoner awaiting release as we wait to celebrate the glorious good news of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day.
Themes of Lent
During Lent, the Bible readings set for Sundays centre on:
The Fall in the Garden of Eden
Jesus' temptation in the desert
Jesus warns his disciples of his coming death: he sets himself to go to Jerusalem
The cleansing of the Temple
'Take up your cross and follow me'.
I guess none of these themes could be described as popular! We like to forget them and get on with enjoying life and indeed the Bible often encourages us to do just that, 'Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice,' says St Paul. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God's gift that all should eat and drink and lake pleasure in all their work,' says the write of Ecclesiastes.
Why bother with Lent?
So why bother with all this gloomy Lent stuff? 1 think that Lent acts as a sort of reality check. So easily the trappings of the consumer society wrap us in cotton wool and prevent us from addressing deeper and ultimately more important questions of life. We need to be re minded that we are not immortal, neither are we always the people God intended us to be - sin is a reality that affects everyone. But, fortunately, God has solutions for these problems. These are an eternal quality of life that begins here and now and continues beyond physical life; and an eternal kind of life made possible for each one of us, by faith in Jesus and what he accomplished and foreshadowed that first Easter Day.
May I wish you all a spiritually enriching and holy Lent.