Finally, it’s Lent. It’s felt a long time coming this year, not least because Easter is about as late as it can be. As I write this, however, I think I’m ‘ready’ for Lent, if ‘ready’ is the right word. I feel in need of challenge and fasting and reflection. I feel it’s time we all took on board the holy, if challenging, joy available to us during this season of repentance and preparation.
Lest you think me a masochist, let me outline why I think Lent is ‘overdue’. What it comes down to is this: I think we all need a ‘wake-up call’ from time-to-time. I say this as someone who is
permanently sleep-deprived and could happily sleep in till 11 am each day if circumstances allowed it! But even a lover of sleep like me acknowledges the value of a good alarm from time to time. And that is what Lent is. It is a clarion call from God – a call to see ourselves and the world more clearly and respond to God’s loving invite into faithfulness.
This clarion call is made to all, but it is also specific. Lent is a challenge to communities as well as individuals. Indeed the idea that Lent is about individuals is quite a new idea. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use these forty days to search our consciences or give something up, but Lent’s deeper challenge is for the whole community to prepare for the heart of our faith: Easter.
So how might the wake-up call be applied to us at St Nick’s? Well, if I’m honest I want to say it is a matter for discernment rather than hard-and-fast rules. However, I’ve encountered enough of God’s startling love down the years to know that the wake-up call isn’t likely to be comfortable. It’s more likely to be the holy equivalent of a bucket of icy water thrown on our drowsy faces than a gentle nudge.
Here are some of the things I suspect God is challenging our community about as we journey through Lent. Firstly, that we can’t ever afford to be inward-looking. Yes, Sunday-by-Sunday we
gather for worship, and that’s great, but who we are is shown in our relationships with the wider world.
Equally, we can’t expect to be popular or liked simply because we call ourselves Christians. We have a great charge that we share in common: to serve and love with the wild abundant love of God.
And we may get few thanks for being faithful to that calling. We may not get much applause, but our task is to be faithful in a needy world. For when we strip back the cheap glamour and promises of the world, we come face-to-face with Christ. Christ comes to us in the shape of those who are on the outside. Christ is not comfortable but challenging.
The good news, however, is that God is faithful. We can be so easily discouraged (Well, I know I can!). However, the paths we follow are those already walked by Christ. We follow after him. He
may lead us into unexpected, challenging places, but he doesn’t abandon us. In our personal struggles, in our corporate fears and in the world’s endless need, God is present. And he cherishes us and we are called to cherish and delight in him.
May Lent be a time of wondrous discovery for you!