I have been asked to speak about what Lent means to me.
Having thought about this for a while, it strikes me that Lent is a bit like the run up to an exam.
First it is a time of self-examination. Before sitting an exam you need to think, am I ready? What are my weaknesses? What do I need to revise?
In the same way, Lent is a time for spiritual reflection and self-examination – a time for re-alignment with God – re-alignment with who we want to be – who we think God wants us to be
To do that we need to spend some time with God – to go and find him or let him find us – like Moses finding God in the burning bush “in the back side of the desert” in the King James version. (Exodus 3:1-5)
Just as God’s loving relationship with us is defined through the crucifixion of his son Jesus – so in the run up to Easter we need to think about how we will define ourselves and our relationship with God.
Secondly, it is a time of self-discipline. In order to pass exams you need to put in the work, to study, to train oneself – to change
Exam success does not come from going down the pub with your mates – it comes from delaying pleasure for greater rewards to come – we need to prioritise and make an investment for future success
I believe that we are what we do – so to change what we are, we need to start changing what we do.
In Lent we practice taking control over our actions in order to make us more like the people we want to be – not just giving up things, but taking up things too.
And God will help us – as we heard in our second reading:
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are
(1 Cor. 1:26-28)
God has a role for all of us and wants us to be the very best that we can be in that role
The final part of Lent is of course the Passion narrative – just as the revision period must ultimately come to an end so Lent ends with the journey to the final exam – Jesus moves from the wilderness and up to Jerusalem – like going to the driving school or the exam hall
And we accompany him in spirit
For this reason Lent was the traditional time for pilgrimages – and for Passion plays – and its modern form, the passion film – like the harrowing 2004 film the Passion of the Christ
Every year in the Parish we combine these two elements with a walk of witness travelling across the heath from St Andrew’s to St Mary’s at midday on Good Friday.
I hope many you may join in this – it is a very moving thing to carry the cross and join in spirit with Jesus’s last journey.
I would like to pause for a moment at that point to listen to the music of Allegri’s Misere – for me no Lent would be the same without this music – and, as we listen, let us think about how Jesus showed us the sublime example of self-sacrifice, suffering and dying for us on the Cross, and consider what our response should be to that act of love.
So with the end of Lent comes the crucifixion and death of Christ
And here is the Good News, because it turns out that God has already taken the exam for us – the examination of God’s love for us – where he suffered and died for us on the cross – Jesus took that exam on our behalf and he passed with flying colours – for in three days he gloriously rose from the dead and is with us forever more
And like learning to drive or gaining a degree, success in the exam means that life will never be the same again, new opportunities are opened up for us with the new life that comes from Christ’s conquering of suffering and death
The English word Lent comes from the same word as lengthen – it is the lengthening of the days which comes in springtime. So Lent means spring and in spring we get ready for new life
New life comes which comes from a better knowledge of God and ourselves.
New life which comes from the self-discipline to change what we do and who we are.
New life which comes from the passion and resurrection of God in Christ Jesus – which changes everything.
And so let us pray together
Eternal God, at all times, and in particular in this season of Lent,
Give us insight to discern your will for us,
Help to give up what harms us,
And to seek the perfection we are promised
In Jesus Christ our Lord.