St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Vicar's column - February 2018

Let’s face it, I doubt there was much fasting going on last Advent. With Advent being so short in 2017, just three weeks this time around, and in the usual pre-Christmas frenzy, most of us would have missed the mark at anything like proper Advent observance but, take heart Lent is now on the horizon!...

But - it looks like we might be foiled again. Ash Wednesday has some serious competition this year – not only does it fall within half term week but it coincides with Valentine’s Day! (The sooner the powers that be get around fixing a sensible date for Easter, and thereby all Holy Days preceding it, the better.) February certainly also seems to be an appealing time of the year for folk to escape to sunnier climes.

In times past, instead of a time holidaying, Lent was the main occasion for baptism and for the reconciliation of those who had been excluded from the church’s fellowship for apostasy or serious faults. The whole Christian community was invited to join them in the process of study and repentance, whose extension over forty days would remind them of the forty days that Jesus spent being tested in the wilderness. This history explains the characteristic notes of Lent: prayer, self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and almsgiving.

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. 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. Churches are kept bare of flowers and decoration. The Gloria in Excelsis is not used. The fourth Sunday of Lent (Refreshment Sunday) was allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent, and the Feast of the Annunciation usually falls in Lent. These breaks from austerity are the background to the modern Mothering Sunday.

Applying the “Pray as you can, not as you can’t” motto, I encourage you to think about your keeping of Lent in the life circumstances within which you find yourself this year, even if you are kicking it off with a romantic meal. (I, for one, will be celebrating St Valentine early this year.) Fasting can be undertaken in many forms. If you are away fine dining, think about what else you can fast from, such as technology, fossil fuels, or plastic. Concern for the wellbeing of our planet is an ever pressing concern. The BBC’s documentary Blue Planet II was a wake-up call for all of us that we cannot continue to pollute the planet in the manner to which we have become accustomed. Things have got to change – we have got to change. Holidays, with their change of pace and environment, allow space for reflection, a chance to gain perspective on life and time for reading - you could slip a Christian classic or book of Lent readings into your suitcase. One suggestion is Laurence Freeman’s, Sensing God: Learning to Meditate during Lent. Or, in the true spirit of Lent, go on retreat for a full spiritual MOT

Rev Lisa Cornwell