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”Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2a).
In Church History, Lent may have followed Epiphany, just as Jesus time in the wilderness followed immediately after his baptism. But soon this period of Lent became attached to Easter. Easter was, originally, the principle occasion to be baptised and for the reconciliation of those who have been excluded from the fellowship of the Church due to apostasy or serious faults. As these individuals reflected, prepared, study, repented, the wider Christian community was invited to likewise. This history explains and illustrates the main foci of Lent – self examination, penitence, self- denial (often through some form of fasting), study, reflection on financial giving, and of course, preparing for Easter. A time of spiritual endeavour.
What is the goal of this endeavour during our Lent? Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh of the Russian Orthodox Church wrote:
”Contrary to what many may think or feel, a period of spiritual endeavour (during Lent, perhaps, or while taking part in a retreat), is a time of joy because it is a time for coming home, a period when we can come back to life. It should be a time when we shake off all that is worn and dead in us in order to become able to live, and to live with all the vastness, all the depth, and all the intensity to which we are called.”
Metropolitan Anthony’s words are worth taking time to reflect upon. We recall what the Lord Jesus said in John 10:
‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (v10).
Our Lenten activities are not done from merely from perspective of burden or something we ‘ought to do’. But with a much greater horizon and vision. Our disciplines are to help us come home, to shake off what has become dead or worn in us, to enter further into the fullness of life for which Christ came. And we do our disciplines, confident the Lord wants us to experience such fullness.
This is reflected within the words of Luke 15:v11-32, which while known as Prodigal Son can also be called the Story of the Welcoming Father, as well as the Story of the Lost Sons (there are two sons in this parable). For some, Lent is an important time to recognise how they have left the Father’s house, to come to their senses where they are now at, and to make that choice to return home. To come home, knowing they will be welcomed. For some however, the elder son is where they are now. Somehow, the relationship with God has been dulled, become hardened into something which was not the Father’s intent for us. They have become lost internally even though externally nothing seems to have changed. For them too, they need to come home again…
There are many ways, books and resources to help us in our journey to growing fullness this Lent. Here is just one suggestion. It may be something to use in one day or across a number of days. It mainly requires of us, that most valuable of commodities – time. It has three sections.
As stated earlier, forgiveness is a theme of Lent. In the church tradition, forgiveness was shown and known by those being baptised, as they declared their embracing of the good news of Christ through public baptism. And Lent of course, in preparing us for Easter, focuses us upon the cost of forgiveness, through the Cross.
Forgiveness. We take time, in prayer, to recall the riches of God’s kindness and love. And we invite the Lord to show us, those to whom we have not extended the same kindness and love, those who have hurt us and whom we need to forgive… And as people come to mind, as we take time to reflect, we remember what we need to forgive.
When we are ready, we bring these individuals to God in prayer – saying in his presence, that we choose to forgive that person for what they said, did, or didn’t do which hurt us, and that we choose no longer to hold onto resentment and any desire for revenge.
And we ask the Lord to bring further healing into our wounds. Forgiveness is always difficult for wounds are deep and painful. For some we are not able yet to forgive in such a way. But that can be also part of our prayer – to acknowledge before God, that at this stage, you cannot forgive, but you ask his help and strength and love to be able come to a place where you can forgive. This will all take time, and the grace and help of the Lord through his Spirit.
We naturally reflect when we approach Sunday worship and within the service upon our following of Christ. It is suggested to take an extended time to reflect, and to invite us, as David prayed:
”Search me and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:v23-24).
The Lord Jesus lists in Mark 7:v21-23 a list of sins. Paul lists another set in Galatians 5:v19-20. Finally the list, by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-9, where he describes what it means to act in a loving manner towards others (and in what ways it is wrong to act or treat others).
To take some time to read and reflect slowly upon the issues shared and to invite the Lord to show us where we have fallen into these sins – once, a number of times, perhaps in action, perhaps only in mind or attitude. And in that setting we also read 1 John 1:v5-10. These words of John challenge us to reflect in the Lord’s presence – as he warns us that we can think we are fine when we are not. But also we reflect, confident of the promise that John shares – that the Lord forgives all who repent and purifies us from unrighteousness. To draw us back into fullness of life.
Third and final. Identity. Lent can be all about where we need to change. Like the first son, (in Luke 15). Yet the second son had forgotten where he was, who he was and who was his father. So the third suggestion is to reflect upon: How you see yourself and how you see God the Father? Below, there are a set of statements ‘Identity’ about who we are ‘In Christ’ – as drawn from New Testament verses.
Take time to read them – out loud is best. And to reflect upon which ones speak to your heart, and to take time to reflect upon the scripture that those words come from. Where it is encouraging, take time to rest in the Lord’s presence and thank him. Where it is challenging, perhaps you are unable to quite accept it, to bring to the Lord your questions and invite him to help you grow in the confidence that this passage seeks to bring, to see yourself more as God the Father sees you. It is worthwhile that you would do this more than once in Lent, reflecting upon these statements.
Secondly, after reflecting upon how God the Father sees you, to then take time to reflect upon how you see Him.
At times circumstance, life experience, the words of others, and other matters, have clouded the vision of God the Father. We see God in a way, which isn’t as Scripture would suggest. So as we have done for ‘Identity’ we do the same exercise about our ‘Father God’. We read out the words about God the Father and similarly reflect, pray, praise, embrace.
These are simply three suggested acts of reflection to weave into the remaining weeks of Lent. One reflection may resonate than another. Revd David and I are there to help where these reflections raise questions you would like to talk or pray further about.
But as Metropolitan Anthony reminds us, all our Lenten activity, let it be about returning to the home, restoring the joy, experience more of the fullness for which Christ came and for which he died and rose again.
We pray for the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus, to keep a faithful Lent and to have a fruitful Lent.
Revd Grant Crowe