Pastoral Letter - 26th February
Dear Friends, A few of you asked if I could refresh your memory about what I said in our Zoom Service on the First Sunday in Lent, which I am happy to do. As I mentioned then, most of us have had to give up all sorts of things, not just for Lent, but for the majority of the past year: going up to town to shop; visiting the theatre for plays, opera and ballet; attending sports events; seeing family and friends and going off on holidays in this country as well as overseas. A period of Lenten abstinence has been imposed upon us all: the simplification of life, time for reflection, opportunities for self-examination, a limit on our acquisitive activities, a sense of separation from the normal experience of life. In many ways since March 23rd 2020, we have been in a sort of desert or wilderness, relying more deeply on God for our psychological and emotional strength, recognising what really matters in our lives, who really matters in our lives, how perhaps we wish to spend the rest of our lives should we be spared, and acutely aware of the fragility and giftedness of life itself. It doesn’t seem that long ago since we were trying, in strange circumstances, to celebrate Christmas, though all we really wanted was the gift of a New Year ripe with the promise of an effective vaccine and a return to what we have got used to and call "normality". But here we are, at the beginning of Lent. Now you might think that Lent is a religious word, but originally it wasn’t at all. Lent is a shortened version of the Old English word "Lencten" meaning "Spring season". In the Christian context, it denotes a time of new life, growth, learning and development. And it is in that same spirit that I would invite you all to consider the opportunities which Lent affords. In the Early Church those wishing to become, be Baptised as, Christian would be set aside from Ash Wednesday and become part of what was known as the Catechumenate. They would spend the seven weeks before Easter preparing for Baptism, being introduced to the teachings of Christ and being encouraged to think about how one lived out a life aligned to Christ as part of the life of The Church. But then, more people realised that, beyond Baptism, a time for being refreshed and reminded about what being a Christian was all about was helpful to their ongoing discipleship, hence this season of Spring was marked by a time in the Church’s year for more concentrated attention to who Christ is, what being a follower of His involves and implies and how we can align our lives more fruitfully with His so as to be more faithful in our calling to being His continuing presence in the world. It was to be prepared to examine one’s life humbly and honestly, repent of things which were not animated by His law of generous, self-giving love, and seek to be more Christ-like in one’s vision, values, preoccupations, activities and relationships, the better then to re-affirm one’s Baptismal promises on Easter Day. This first keeping of "Lent" took as its inspiration Jesus’ forty nights and forty days in the wilderness, which we are reminded of in Matthew Chapter 4 verses 1-11, which I would encourage you to read again now, so as to make more sense of what I am about to write. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t seem that long ago since we were keeping Christmas and it recently struck me that the three temptations of Christ connect in a strange and significant way with the three gifts with which the Magi presented the infant Christ. Gold. Incense. Myrrh. Myrrh, used for embalming bodies, evokes the sense of Jesus’ mortality and humanity. In the wilderness Jesus is tempted first to turn stones into bread, to feed His hungry, aching body and prevent death from starvation. Gold represents worldly wealth and power and Jesus’ second temptation is when He is offered worldly power by the devil. Incense, frankincense, is resonant with the image of worship, clouds of smoke like prayers ascending into the presence of God in the Temple. Jesus cries out in response to the devil’s third temptation that worship is for God alone and not for any lower being. What and whom one worships will determine our spiritual character and eternal destiny. Thus you and I must look this Lent at how we live, what motivates our choices and ensure that in all things God is served and not our baser selves. Firstly, "Man does not live by bread alone." We must discipline ourselves and our appetites, not give up things which perhaps we should cut back on anyway for our health and wellbeing, cake, biscuits, that third glass of Claret at dinner, but things that really cost us at our core, to show, even to ourselves, that we are not ruled by our physical appetites, that a higher imperative informs and inspires us. Secondly, of gold, of wealth, of worldly belongings. For a start we should probably set aside the money we are saving from those physical things which we have given up for Lent and not keep that money and spend it on other things for ourselves, but offer that money as a gift to a charity, the Church*, something beyond our own cravings. In this way we make a significant link between ourselves and others, not giving from our abundance, but from our deepest selves and in so doing giving a part of ourselves to others in solidarity and compassion. How we spend our money speaks eloquently as to what our values and priorities are in life and what and who really matter to us. Thirdly, "You should worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve", reminding us of the fragrant gift of frankincense, denoting the spiritual dimension of who we have been created to be. God created us, wanted us to live, gave us freedom to worship or not to worship Him, to live in loving communion with Him or not. And you and I make that choice not once at our Baptism, but over and over again each and every day with every choice, decision, reaction of our waking lives. You and I choose several times a day whether we will align our values with His, our truth with His, our behaviour with His, our principles with His, or to follow rules and principles that better suit and justify our own cravings and wants. Lent, if Lent this is to be for us, fresh with growth, potent with new life, nudges us, reminds us, that we will never be whole, creative, fulfilled, at peace, until we are reconciled with God, inspired by His word, aligned to His truth, anchored in His love, freed by His Spirit, centred on our relationship with Christ. So, it’s up to you whether to take advantage of this season of the soul that offers us the chance to grow, this Springtime when the roots of our deepest being search for the moisture and for the nourishment in the soil of our faith and as stems and branches stretch to the Heavens in the desire to bring forth fruitfulness and beauty. Let it be a time of growth for you, in your body, in your mind and in your spirit. With blessings and best wishes Jeff * You may also remember my saying in Sunday’s introduction that, over the past year we have experienced a fall in income at St Mary’s Twickenham of £43,000. We have made savings of £32,000, partly by not replacing Piotr as Assistant Priest, thereby reducing the shortfall to £11,000. If all those who make a commitment and contribution to St Mary’s could increase their offering by even £1 per week, or more if you are able, that would make a tremendous difference, so please may I ask you to consider doing that, to ensure the ongoing ministry and mission of our church. Thank you.
LENT PRAYER 2021 Lord, as we join you in this spiritual journey called Lent, We give thanks that throughout our journey through life You are constantly at our side, prompting us in love. We ask you: To bless and guide us as we journey toward you, To bless and guide us as we read your word, To bless and guide us as we seek to be people of prayer, To bless and guide the friendships we make on the way, That we may feel your love reaching out to us As we journey ever deeper into the future which You long to share with us and which we long to share with you. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN.
Zoom Service. Do please join us on Zoom this coming Sunday at 9.30am for the Second Sunday in Lent. Our readings will be: Romans Chapter 4 verses 13-end and Mark Chapter 8 verses 31-end. The Collect: Almighty God, you show to those who are in error, The light of your truth, that they may return to the way of righteousness: Grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ`s Church, That they may reject those things which are contrary to their calling And follow all such things as are agreeable to the same. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit One God, now and for ever. AMEN.