St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Vicar's column - March 2017

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake... will save it. (Mark 8:34b-35)

Jesus’ discipleship challenge is seriously at odds with prevailing culture, where the word “self” is rarely yoked with the words “denial”, “discipline”, “control” or “sacrifice”. More typical prefixes include “indulge”, “find”, “be”, “express” and “assert”. Yet Christians have always been called to be counter-cultural. To be fair, Chris Evans has been promoting dry January and sugar free February. But then, I wonder what has become of Lent? In the Christian calendar our period of abstinence begins on the 1st March this year. Evans will likely be back on the booze and biscuits then.

The period of forty days reminds us of the forty days that Jesus spent being tested in the wilderness. The calculation of the forty days has varied considerably over the years. It is now usual in the West to count them continuously to the end of Holy Week, so beginning Lent on the sixth Wednesday before Easter, Ash Wednesday. Churches are kept bare of flowers and decoration. The Gloria in Excelsis is not used. The fourth Sunday of Lent (traditionally “Refreshment Sunday”), now our “Mothering Sunday” is allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent.

As well as a time for self-examination, penitence and self-denial, Lent is an opportunity to spend more time in prayer, bible study and other spiritual reading. There are always a range of specialist books on offer for Lent. Check out the church library, and Quench bookshop if you have not done so already. For something different, that seriously calls into question our excessive lifestyle, I recommend reading John Naish, Enough, or Oliver James, Affluenza. In Western society, we have come to define ourselves in terms of our possessions. We buy our own identities, to detrimental effect for our psychology and planet. We need to get in touch with our core identity, made in the image of God. “To have or to be?” is a good question to ponder during Lent.

Make a good start to Lent by attending one of the Ash Wednesday Eucharists at 10 am or 8 pm, which include “the imposition of ashes”. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence; from the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. Generally speaking, modern Anglicans are better at partying than penitence. Lent is a good opportunity for us to reflect upon our lives: What thoughts and actions are we sorry for? What have we failed to do, or not do, to live truly by Christ’s kingdom values? Choose life. Choose Lent. 

Rev Lisa Cornwell