Reflection for February 21st 2021

Archdeacon Simon Hill

Lent 2021 feels a little different.

Indeed, we might be tempted to say that we are “wildernessesed out” already.

We have had nearly 12 months of what might feel like a desert experience.

We have had imposed on us a fasting from being with friends in person.

Even our eating habits have changed

And as there has been wilderness so there have been angels:  on hospital wards, in care homes in all sorts of acts of love and care in our communities.

We have come back to the season when the first lockdown began – Lent and on this first Sunday of Lent some of the first words from Mark’s Gospel – what is effectively Mark’s prologue.

This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel with no shepherd or magi, or even birth.   It is the temptations with no stones to turn into bread, temple to jump from or mountain to look out from.

This is bullet point Mark in true Mark style giving us the basic facts.  It is fast moving – baptism by John, where God declares Jesus is  God’s beloved son.  Then he is “immediately” driven into the wilderness.   There Jesus is tempted by Satan but waited upon by the angels (reflecting how the wilderness days were a necessary part of his calling).

Jesus announces:

  • the Kingdom of God has come near
  • the need to repent
  • believe in the good news

The Gospel will in Marcan style quickly move on telling the good news of Jesus.  Wherever Jesus goes, through his preaching, teaching, healing, forgiving and loving the kingdom of God draws near.

And our lives move on deeper into the liturgical season of Lent. We are invited into the desert. As Ruth Burgess puts it:

The desert waits,

Ready for those who come,

who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading;

or who are driven,

because they will not come any other way. 

The desert always waits,

 ready to let us know who we are –

 the place of self-discovery.

And whilst we feel and rightly,

the loneliness and emptiness and harshness,

we forget the angels, whom

we cannot see for our blindness,

but who come when God decides

that  we need their help;

when we are ready

for what they can give us.

For  a time we are invited on a journey of a specific length  taking us to Christ’s passion – a journey when we are travelling less to  a new destination but more  back to the God who loves us.

This is an annual journey of 40 days but feels a bigger journey now with lockdown – It is as if we are in a long Lent and are

challenged by it. 

  • How are we being changed? 
  • How do we make Lent and the pandemic a form of discipline to show our true character?
  • What does discipleship mean right now? 

Now more than ever we might be able to see it as something more than giving up biscuits. There may not have been imposition of ashes by hands  onto forehead on Ash Wednesday this year, but more than ever the words said at that time ring true “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”

In his brevity Mark tells us Jesus is God’s son, that the kingdom of God has come near, to repent believe the good news and he gives us a lifetime to respond.  In the 40 days of Lent, the seemingly endless days of pandemic and beyond we respond in different ways.  Now is an opportunity to give space and time to our relationship with God.  In ‘Faith in the Future’ former Chief Rabbi  Jonathan Sacks writes about the Sabbath:

The Jewish mystics tell the story of the rabbi who once asked his son, ‘Where does God live?’  The child could not understand the question.  Where does God live?  Where does he not live? ‘Surely’, said the child, ‘he fills the heaven and the earth?’ ‘No’, said the rabbi.  ‘God lives wherever we let Him in.’  Perhaps that is the religious secret of the Sabbath . It is the day when we cast off our own devices and desires and let God in.

We can use the coming season against a backdrop of pandemic  as in some ways like the Sabbath  to repent, and endeavour to let God in  and to be more committed to seeing the kingdom of God come near.  All this in order that our daily prayer of “your kingdom come, your will be done” may be uttered from the very heart of our being.