To be truthful I'm not always too sure what to do with either of the penitential and preparatory seasons we call Lent and Advent. I find it difficult, for example, to live in a sort of 'suspended' way anticipating the birth of Jesus at Christmas or his death and resurrection at Easter. Of course I love reading the related gospel stories at these times of year but I know the endings! So I'm left wondering a bit - what am I to do with the next forty days?
I actually have a bit if a plan this year - and for me it is the addressing of an issue that's been bugging me for some time - and that is the question 'What was actually going on at the cross?' I need, I think, to look at that again this Lent. My understanding thus far has been along the lines that at the cross Jesus paid the price for my sins, took my place and in doing so 'appeased' the wrath of God towards sin. New models of theology ask us to consider if this is actually a picture of God consistent with the rest of what we learn about him in the bible. Is this the way a God of love would act? Is the 'wrath of God' more a Pauline doctrinal construct than the picture Jesus gave of us of God during his three years of public ministry? So I'll be doing a lot of thinking and reading this year about Good Friday. I'm not sure how far I will have got by April 3rd but I think it's the right journey for me this Lent.
If that's all about the end point - the starting point yesterday was a service of Ashing at St Michael's, our local Parish Church. The clergy team there had graciously invited me to preside at the 8pm Eucharist last evening in The Lady Chapel. I was thrilled to see folks from my own congregation joining in as well. Before Communion I 'ashed' half the congregation and the Assistant Priest the other. It was a poignant moment as we reminded ourselves that we 'are dust and to dust we shall return' along with the injunction to 'turn from sin and turn to Christ'.
I'm glad that after all that rather stark and severe talk we could receive bread and wine - reminding ourselves that in our mortality and brokenness God draws alongside us with his forgiving and sustaining life offering us peace, hope and new beginnings.
Lent is here - and wherever it takes you this year - wherever it takes me - I'm sure God's love will not be far away from where we end up!