Rector's Letter Lent 2021
The Time Between
At Lent we go from one feast to another. You might not think of Shrove Tuesday as being a ‘feast’ but it was the time to eat up all the luxurious food (including eggs) before Lent – a time of fasting – began. And if you could see the lavish toppings and the utter joy with which a huge plate of pancakes are devoured in some houses, you would agree that it is a feast. And surely Easter is the greatest festival, or feast day, of the Christian calendar as we welcome the risen Christ who through his death and resurrection brings eternal life and forgiveness - hope.
The time between is vitally important. If we merely lived from feast to feast the festivities would pall, and we would be hugely unhealthy – with the emphasis on huge! But Lent is a time of growth and new life, a time of gestation. It affords chickens the opportunity to hatch out chicks, since the eggs aren’t being gathered, and it affords Christians more time, with fasting and prayer, in which to grow in our love and knowledge of God. Just as a child is not merely conceived and straight away born, but instead is nurtured in the womb and its arrival prepared for, so we need time to prepare to ensure that we have the energy and skills to help people through the time of recovery after the pandemic so that we can then move to rebuild wisely and well.
We, as a Church, have responded well to the pandemic and I commend you for all that you have done individually; and all we, corporately, have achieved. Well done. Our continued response is equally important over the coming weeks until it is safe to start emerging from the life which seems like a shrouded half-life of seclusion. Christ, as you remember, emerged from the cocoon of the grave-clothes in a new body which was different to his previous incarnation and he then spent a time with his disciples, a time of recovery, so that they were then able to move into a time of reconstruction.
We aren’t there yet, but we, as his Church, can use this time, whilst we are still in response mode, to prepare and to rest so that we will be re-energised ready for the next phase - recovery. And we need to be praying and listening to his direction as to the right timing as to when that time will be. Since I’ve already mentioned chicks and butterflies, I’ll run with that. For their new life to happen something has to first be broken and from that brokenness something better and brighter can be born. So please, if you have been broken by this experience, do not allow the negative connotations our society places on brokenness to impact you. God is in the business of fixing broken things and making them more beautiful.
Both have to struggle to get out of their shell or cocoon and at the right time: but it is that struggle which enables them to eventually take flight. If someone tries to peel away all that binds them, to speed up their emergence, they will not be able to achieve their potential. Struggling is important – it led to Jacob’s name change to Israel and it prepared him for what lay ahead. We will within the next few months, I am sure, be moving from the time of response to the pandemic, to the time of recovery. So, whilst living in a continued time of response we also need to start preparing for the time of recovery that is to come, before the time of reconstruction which will follow that.
After every crisis there is a time of recovery. It cannot be rushed any more than we can rush our recovery after a major illness or surgery, and in a similar way we have to learn to accept the changes. During recovery we have the time to learn to let go of our previous expectations and ways of relating to the world. It’s a time of evaluating what we can still do, but also of working out how our changed circumstances might actually take us in a different direction and have opened up new opportunities. It may be a time of grief and mourning, of lament and tears. For some that will be incredibly difficult and they will find it hard to take their eyes off what lay behind as they hanker for a return of their previous ‘normality’. And this is where the word of God can help us and where we, the Church, can then help others, because we know the one who brings healing, new life and life in all its fullness – the one who carries hope. That doesn’t mean that we won’t grieve and mourn for what has been lost, indeed it would be unhealthy if we didn’t spend time lamenting but, on the horizon, we see hope.
Recovery - Hope
Our hope lies in Christ – at least I hope it does! He offers us the hope of an eternal life with him where all things will be made new, in bodies which will neither feel pain nor age and a kingdom of love and grace. But that new life doesn’t start only when these bodies die, it starts from the moment we start believing in, and following, him. So that this life now, in our frail bodies, can be fuller and more meaningful and we can know a peace that passes all human understanding.
Lamentations 3 24 ‘ “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” 25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.26 So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.27 And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline: 28 Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord’s demands.29 Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.
That hope is vitally important because it helps us to trust in God. And trusting in God brings us healing, and helps us to recover from all that we have undergone so that we can move forward. This is a really important process, this learning to trust God, this time of recovery, and it brings with it a number of stages, and takes time if we are truly to find healing and wholeness.
So I implore you to use this time of Lent to rest in God, to lean on him and his understanding, and to look back over the last year and see what you can learn from this experience. The time spent over the last year will not have been wasted if we can learn from it. The next few months can be profitably used resting in God and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, deliberately building our resources and resilience for the time of recovery which is to come.
With love to you all, Susie