Lent begins early for us this year. On 14th February, Ash Wednesday, we will set out on the annual pilgramage towards Holy Week and Easter.
We know little about the origin of Lent. It's often said that the word is derived from the old English for 'Spring' [or 'lengthen']. This is the time of year when the days begin to draw out and we see the green shoots of new growth in the world around us.
It's thought that the tradition of keeping a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter goes back to the early days of the Church. By the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, Lent was firmly established as a time when converts [catechumens] were instructed in the faith in preparation for their baptism at Easter. Yet, though we read and sing about 'forty days and nights', there are actually forty six days in Lent. Sundays are not included as they are always days of celebration not fasting.
With the traditional emphasis on 'giving things up' Lent has tended to be thought of in rather negative terms, as something we have to endure. So, in recent decades there has been quite a change of emphasis. Lent, these days, is seen as an opportunity for some spiritual refreshment and renewal, a time for taking things on as well as giving things up.
This year's special focus will be on St Mark's Gospel. I encourage you to join with us in the daily reading through Mark. It's something we've done in the past and greatly benefited from as a Church family. It will take just a few moments of your day and you will reach Easter having read the Gospel from cover to cover.
To supplement our daily reading there will be a series of special talks on Mark's Gospel at the Wednesday morning Holy Eucharist. This is usually attended by a good number of people and will be followed by coffee and an opportunity to chat about the week's theme.
As the journey of Lent leads us to the Way of the Cross we will meet each Thursday evening at 7pm for the popular devotional service of 'Stations of the Cross'. We will reflect on different meditations which will be followed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
I hope that many of us will consider taking something on for Lent and come along to one or more of these special events. There is something for everyone this year - studies, talks and devotional services.
For those who are strong willed enough to keep the discipline of giving something up there will be an opportunity to support Bishop John's Lent Appeal once again. We ask you to keep aside the money you save by going without something for Lent and to bring it to Church on Easter Sunday.
Some years ago I came across these words penned by the celebrated Brother Ramon, an Anglican Fransican I was privileged to meet and hear him preach several times. In the preface to his popular Lent book he wrote;
"You are invited to a sterner discipline than merely giving up sugar in Lent! It is the discipline of a pilgrimage, a journey into scripture, a journey into your deepest self, a journey into God. Like all disciplines, positive good emerges with accompanying joy, and closer proximity to that union in love which is the goal of all our journeyings. We are all on a pilgrimage anyway, from the cradle to the grave, and through the gateway of death into eternity. So any smaller pilgrimage on this larger journey can infuse meaning and joy into life's twisting and [hopefully] ascending pathway, should be treasured. You will find that if you share this lesser pilgrimage during the coming Lent, it will place your larger human journey into the context of eternity."
However you are planning to keep Lent this year I hope that it will be a time of spiritual growth and renewal for us all.
With every blessing,