As I write this letter, we seem to be experiencing one of the rawest January’s in a long time. It’s cold and grey and the rain is relentless. We who live in Manchester are no strangers to wet weather, but I can’t tell you how ready I am for February.
February. When there is at least the glimpse of the spring that is yet to come! This is the month one begins to see snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils. I am not that fussed by flowers and gardens (well, not enough to want to tend one!), but I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to see signs of new life and promise appearing.
Yet, February is also the time when we enter Lent, that time of great self examination, preparation and prayer, ahead of Holy Week and Easter. It can feel like a chastening time, especially on Ash Wednesday when we are marked with dust and reminded of our mortality and frailty.
For me, these two elements – the promise of new life and times of penitence – are bound together. February – in the space of a short month – represents a time which contains markers of some of the deepest mysteries of our faith. We see the hope of renewal and yet are invited to see that through the prism of mortality.
How could it be any other way? Jesus Christ comes to us in the frailty of human flesh, revealing the utter beauty of full humanity; yet, in his death and resurrection, he reveals that our frailty, our mortality and our sin is not the end. We are called into a deeper glory where we are Children of God, made in love and for love.
So, as we enter Lent on Ash Wednesday, to what extent should we be joyful? Well, I think, we should be exceedingly glad. Lent is not about pleasure, or having fun or feeling superior, but it is about joy. I am not talking about ‘joy’ as a feeling, so much as a way of understanding or reading the world.
That is, I think it is possible to experience the world as tough and a bit of a grind, and yet know joy in the depth of our being. It is possible because of our faith in the One who has redeemed the world. Right now, life might seem awful and indeed be terrible, but that is not the final word. The final word is God’s and the pain of our current age represents birth pangs of God’s New Creation.
When we are going through tough times it can be very difficult to glimpse the glory of God. That’s when we need the love, support and solidarity of fellow travellers in faith and seek to offer them encouragement in return. In the depths of winter, both literal and metaphorical, we seek after warm and heartening places. We need to hunker down. But we do not stay there. One day we look out of the window and see the first flowers of spring. Then, we know that soon summer will come.
Here’s to us all seeing glimpses of new life this February!