How are your Lenten preparations going? Tuesday is Pancake Day – have you bought your supplies yet? And Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, as miserable a day as the Church has yet to invent, apart, perhaps, from the end of the Maundy Thursday service, as betrayal sets in train the inevitable series of events that culminates in crucifixion. It is not exactly a week to look forward to, is it?! What other emotions are going through our minds in these last three days of plenty? What shall we give up for Lent? How feasible is that, given our work/family/health situation? Six weeks of grim-ness is an awfully long time – how can I legitimately cheer myself up during this rigorous season? Well, the days are getting longer, we are moving from snowdrops to daffodils and tulips, the spring migration is under way and it ought to be getting a little warmer. New life is bursting out all around us, and we are wrapped up in a little cocoon of self-imposed restrictions – but that is the point! As new life gathers around us, so new life springs up in the Church, a new life born of suffering and death, yes, but a new life of resurrection, never to die again.
And we are given a glimpse of that new life, in all its glory, in the story of the transfiguration. The true nature of Christ, unshackled by the limitations of a human body, is revealed to the disciples on the mountain-top and they are afraid, as well they might be. Jesus’s words to them as they cower on the ground, “get up and do not be afraid” are pretty similar to words that he will speak to them after the resurrection – fear is the dominant emotion in that first Easter week, followed rapidly by joy. So today, on the eve of Lent, we are given that glimpse of Christ in glory, the glory towards which we shall all be travelling as we journey through the depredations and trials of these upcoming 40 days of self-denial and hard discipleship.
But where is that glimpse given? On top of a mountain, in cloud and echoing voice – just where Moses had been when he collected the 10 Commandments but here the physical word of God is the man Jesus, not two carved blocks of stone. This mountain-top meeting with God is just that – in God’s very presence, and then these disciples will go back down the mountain in the presence of the self-same man they have seen in glory. How can they look at Jesus again, having seen him transfigured like this? How can they see Jesus, their friend and teacher, touching lepers, healing the sick, challenging the Pharisees, without seeing him in glory, on top of the mountain? He has surely changed, completely, for them, for ever.
And yet this Jesus whom they have seen transfigured they can abandon in the Garden of Gethsemane, they can deny in the High Priest’s house, they can hide from as he hangs on a Roman cross, they can disbelieve as he comes to them on that first Easter Sunday. Our very humanity is displayed in them, our weak, fragile humanity, as distinct from the glorious humanity and divinity as seen in Jesus transfigured before them. Even the sight of God in glory is not sufficient to take them through testing and dangerous times – how can we hope to have a good Lent, a purposeful Lent, a Lent that works, for we only have their report of the transfiguration, not the experience.
Of course we can’t, but we do have one advantage over the disciples, in that we have received the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts and direct our ways, and there are more of us than the 12 disciples, so mutual support and creative ways of helping each other are much more numerous than in their time. Also, we come in the wake of 20 centuries of Christian practice, with examples a-plenty and enough reference material to fill several very large cathedrals – we are not short of ideas and help in these matters.
So, we have two things to get on with: three days of freedom to worship and to live in the glory of God, and three days to plan for a good Lent, informed by those three days of glory. Just because it is Lent does not take away the glory. Just because it is Lent, we do not lose our freedom to worship and to live in the light of Christ. We are merely adjusting our lives to bring them closer into line with Christ’s wilderness experience, as we long for the glories of Easter.
Our Lenten observation is a personal thing, special to us and not necessarily for sharing with others, but there are one or two pointers that can be given.
Firstly, Churches Together in Kew have organised a series of Lectures at 8pm on the Monday evenings of Lent, to look at how charities respond to crises, the motivations behind their establishment and the work that they do to maintain those goals. The series is launched on Tuesday at 8pm at the Barn, with Prayers and Pancakes – an opportunity to worship together and to start thinking together.
Secondly, each Lent we are called by our Bishop to support one of his Lenten causes, and our linked diocese of Matabeleland is always top of his list. Matabeleland is the poorest of the provinces of Zimbabwe, it has been devastated the most by farm clearances and the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy – unemployment runs currently at 80% in the country. The churches do their best to witness to Christ in the daily struggle for a decent living, but it is our solemn Lenten duty to support their work practically – next Sunday, donation envelopes will be available for a generous offering of ourselves to help our linked brothers and sisters in Christ in Bulawayo and its surrounding region.
Thirdly, Ash Wednesday, which is this week, will be celebrated at the Barn at 8pm and that service, which is for everybody, will also be the starting point for the group of people from the parish who are preparing for confirmation. It would be a great day to join this small group, to study together before meeting the Bishop at Christchurch East Sheen on 18th June. If you or someone you know would like to get confirmed, just turn up on Wednesday, (but it would be nice to know beforehand).
Fourthly, of the making of books about prayer and the Bible for Lenten study there shall be no end – we still have time to get one – go online when you get home and will be delivered to you before you can say “Goodness me, it’s Lent again.”
May we be blessed together and individually this coming Lent, as we bask in the glory of Christ revealed on the mountain-top, and walk in his light and the strength of his Holy Spirit. May our Lent be productive, joyous and a cause of spiritual growth, that will bring glory to God and a more vigorous discipleship, in our prayer, our study and our life together.