As March begins, we will be into the second week of Lent, a time of waiting, in preparation to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross and finally to victory over death. It is a time when we remember Jesus’ fast and temptation in the Wilderness for forty days. A time when, traditionally, we focus upon self-examination and repentance, a time of prayer, study and reflection. You might be reading this and thinking that, as Christians, should we not come to God every day in prayer, humbly asking for forgiveness and reflecting on his goodness? Or perhaps you are pondering the fact that God’s grace cannot be earned by anything we do; it is a gift freely offered. So I guess you might be wondering, why observe Lent at all? Why spend time consciously waiting on Easter to arrive?
Waiting does not seem to be the norm in the modern world - we live in a society which increasingly expects things to be done quickly. At the click of a button we can order almost anything online and it can be delivered the next day. We can send messages by email and other instant messaging apps; photographs can also be seen the second they are taken. It is quite incredible, especially as all of these things can be done using a mobile phone. The world has sped along at an unprecedented rate in the last twenty years or so. As a child of the eighties, even I had to hand write cards and letters to be posted to distant friends and relatives, waiting patiently for a response to drop onto the doormat. Another memory is of my dad sending our family holiday camera films away and having to wait expectantly, for a number of weeks, before the photographs were returned and we could finally see the images. I have to admit that with a young family, job and ministry here at St Mary’s, I do benefit from home-delivered shopping and I send countless emails every day. Being able to spend less time waiting in checkout queues and on the telephone or writing letters, as my mum did, does free up time to do other things. Ironically, it seems that the quicker we can get things done, the more we try to squeeze into our lives; the more time we have, the busier we are. I have spoken to many retired people who say that they have never been so busy!
Maybe this is where the value of Lent can be appreciated. Waiting allows us time; if you are waiting for something, it takes time. Waiting for Easter to arrive allows us time to step off the world, to put a fresh emphasis onto Jesus being at the centre of all we think and do. Time to look away from what the world offers and to look towards God, time to nurture spiritual growth. During his forty days in the Wilderness, Jesus was tempted with food, worldly power and to test God. At each point, Jesus looked to the scriptures for his responses, with the final statement being, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
In using the time of Lent to turn our focus away from the world and firmly towards God, we have the opportunity to not only to wait on Easter 2018 but to wait on the Lord, to reveal to us His purpose, his power and his Salvation. Prayerfully meditating on his word with the assurances it brings, waiting with patience, expectation and hope. Fully depending on God, trusting in his promises with a renewed vigour and commitment.
Let your door stand open to receive Christ,
Unlock your soul to him
offer him a welcome in your mind
and then you will see the riches of simplicity,
the treasures of peace,
and the joy of grace.
St Ambrose (adapted)