Dear Friends in Christ
It seems hard to believe that we are already on the threshold of Lent, 2021; almost a year since the first Covid-19, Corona virus lockdown #1 in Lent last year. It has been an extremely challenging time for everyone. There has been great suffering and pain throughout the nation and across the world, as every community has been touched by the virus. Many have died and many survivors will suffer the after effects of the Corona virus for years to come.
During my ten years as a school chaplain, the most often asked question was, why does God allow so much suffering in the world? or the statement, there can’t be a god, because the world is full of pain! Well, I’m sure that question has been asked over the last twelve months. So, what is our response to be?
For Christians, the Church’s holy seasons of Lent and Easter hold the key to an understanding of this. Holy scripture, in the Book of Genesis, reminds us that we live in a fallen world, not a perfect one, as far as humanity is concerned. The world works via the mechanisms of physics, chemistry and biology and, therefore, Corona virus, cancer and other diseases routinely disfigure the natural world, as selfishness, cruelty and violence do so in members of the human race.
The point of the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, is that Jesus, the chosen one of God, came to live and suffer among us as one of us to reveal what true unconditional love looks like in human shape. How to restore the beauty of the love, we name as God, in our lives and the lives of those around us. Those who can’t accept God, because of the presence of suffering in the world, are looking at the situation the wrong way round. God is love, and to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, is for humanity to learn how to show compassion and unconditional love to one another in times of suffering and pain. That is why the altar cross in church makes most sense when it has a figure of the crucified Christ upon it: our salvation was wrought upon the cross, which is a powerful symbol of the outpouring of unconditional love for us all. That love touches our lives in the presence of Jesus as the body of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion. That is the source of resurrection love, given freely for us – which begins to heal the pain and suffering of the world and makes the broken whole, as we open our hearts to receive God’s grace in our lives. We have certainly seen so many signs of love in the selfless acts of kindness and neighbourly support since last March. The dedication to the care and well-being of people shown by our NHS staff, teachers, community and key workers and the people in our own streets and church has been very moving and a powerful sign of the good which can be found in times of deep trouble.
Unlike last Lent and Easter, we will be permitted to hold services in church, but they must continue to be strictly regulated by our risk assessments and guidelines. I am most grateful to our church wardens, Caroline and Carolyn and our Director of Music, Jon, for producing our detailed Risk Assessments and keeping them under regular review. This Lent, we will be able to have worship in church, very much along the lines we have developed since public worship was possible last July. Ash Wednesday can happen – this year we are asked to adopt the Mediterranean and South American custom of a little dry dust sprinkled on the top of our heads, with no human contact.
I suggest that our journey together through Lent will be gentler and more contemplative this year. Let us give ourselves space for prayer and reflection. We will not be able to have a Lent discussion group; instead, I am recommending the book, God’s Church in the World: The Gift of Catholic Mission (2020), Edited by Susan Lucas, published by Canterbury Press. This book has been written by some of the best Anglican theologians of the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, including Rowan Williams, Philip North and Gemma Simmonds. Each chapter, explores an aspect central to the Anglo-Catholic tradition and connects prayer and sacramental worship to the task of our calling to participate fully and faithfully in the work of God in our communities.
Accompanying this pastoral letter, you will find a booklet to guide you through the Stations of the Cross. It might be a good idea for us all to pray the Stations, in our own homes, on Fridays during Lent, either at midday or 6 pm as a community of Christian disciples. I have also, included a form of Morning and Evening Prayer for Lent, based on Anglican Common Worship and a few other prayer resources, which you may wish to use.
Remember, “Lent” comes from the old English word from which we get “lengthen”, it means to grow. Lent is the Springtime of the soul; a time when, this year, we need to be kind to ourselves and prune away, through prayer, all that which has caused us to suffer and be anxious and afraid, that we might grow strong and flourish in the light of God’s healing love – given to us by Jesus Christ.
God love you and bless you!