The gap between Christmas and Lent never seems to be very long: we barely have time to get over our Christmas celebrations before we are preparing for Lent and Easter. There’s hardly time to draw breath.
The church calendar guides us gently through the various phases of the Christian year. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost are all important points in the year and they gradually building up the Christian story on which our faith is based.
We are firmly in the season of Lent. The Mardi Gras is behind us and we’re encouraged to remember, and enter into another phase of the story. This time is a gift. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on life and its realities as we leave the vulnerable baby firmly behind in the stable and see Jesus fully involved in the human struggle where there is no hiding place. The drama is played out in full view.
Lent encourages us to think about our lives realistically. Not something we necessarily enjoy because it involves being honest about ourselves. We know we aren’t perfect (if we’re lucky) and Paul makes it clear when he reminds us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. These words surely put us all in the same boat, but, rather than beating ourselves up over our failings Lent encourages us to resolve to put things right and turn our lives round, accepting that God forgives even if we find it difficult.
One of my favourite New Testament stories is that of the women caught in adultery. There is no doubt that she was guilty as she was ‘caught in the act’. The powers that be decided to use her as a test case. They desperately wanted to catch Jesus out and to gather evidence against him, so they brought her to him, dragging her along the dusty road and flinging her on the floor of the temple before Jesus. “What do you say about this?” they asked him. Jesus knew that the Law of Moses required her to be stoned and yet he took his time before answering. Eventually he looked up at them. He didn’t deny the teachings of Moses instead he said, “Let anyone who has committed no sin cast the first stone.” These men must have been stunned as Jesus lowered his head once more. Gradually one by one, the oldest first, they sloped off and by the time Jesus lifted his head again he and the woman were alone. Where are they?” He asked her, “is there no one left to condemn you? Then neither will I. Go, but don’t do it again.”
Jesus was realistic about human nature, however, the Jewish leaders in their zealous righteousness had forgotten that they too were human – they hadn’t understood this Rabbi.
Here is the man who as he hung on the cross, taking all the destructive forces that the human race could throw at him, was honestly able to pray, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. He forgave us and he died that we might be reconciled with the God who loves us. The question is, should we then not forgive ourselves and others? Lent gives us a chance to lay down those painful, damaged parts of ourselves at the foot of the cross and resolve not to pick them up again.
This year we started Lent with a reflective Ash Wednesday Communion on 22 February. This was a service of preparation and we looked again at the story of the woman caught in adultery. There was also the opportunity to be anointed with ash from last years palm crosses.
Have you thought about coming to the midweek service in Holy Week? It’s difficult to appreciate the full impact of Easter Morning if you haven’t been in the upper room on Maundy Thursday (this happens at Forest Hill Church) or stood at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. I invite you to ‘come and see that the Lord is good’.
May God Bless you richly,