The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, March 06, 2006

Our Lenten Journey Begins

Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil.

Lent is a journey which we Christians undertake each year. It begins in ashes, ends in glory and passes through a vale of tears in between. We should view it as a pilgrimage of sorrow to a destination of joy.

On Ash Wednesday, the starting point of this journey, the ancient collect appointed to be prayed that day and every day during Lent, sets out for us so much of what Lent is, or should be.

Almighty and Everlasting God. God. God is. Lent is about God. He is real; He is almighty and He is eternal. If we forget that, the glory at the end of this journey will elude us. Indeed, we must acknowledge God for who and what He is in order even to make this journey.

…who hatest nothing that thou hast made. Love. Lent is about love, the Divine Love God has for His creatures. That knowledge gives us reason to make this journey. It gives us motive for attending to the details of this journey. If we do attend to those details, we are responding in the right way to God’s Love, returning it with our inadequate gestures of love for Him.

…and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent. Mercy. Lent is about God’s mercy. If in returning His Love we can show true sorrow for our sins, God forgives them. There is no more pressing reason for making this journey than to obtain God’s mercy and forgiveness. We all need it.

Create and make in us new and contrite hearts. Renewal. Lent is about renewal, and that fundamentally means renewal in the image of God. Isn’t it wonderful that God set things up so that the Church gives us this opportunity for renewal each and every year? If we embrace this opportunity then this Lenten journey can bring us year by year closer to that living image of God which He desires us to be. In reality, it can bring us, through the Grace of God, closer to God.

…that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness. Sincerity. Lent is about sincere contrition. Sins are not trivial matters. For one thing, as Psalm 51 says, Against thee, thee only have I sinned. Our sins are offences against God. At any time, but especially during this season, there can be nothing casual about our repentance. Lent is a time for mourning over our fallen nature and our acts of transgression.

…may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness. Closure. Lent is about slamming the door on those sins which we have brought with sincere, deep, sorrow to God. God alone slams that door. His forgiveness is perfect, His remission complete. He buries those sins and we must guard against digging them up again. To do so is to invite repetition.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus Christ. Lent is above all else about Jesus Christ.

Lent commemorates His forty days in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit led Him there to finish His preparation for His ministry in fasting and prayer.

As the Divine Son of God, Jesus needed no such preparation. But in His full humanity, He did. And in this act of submission to the command of the Divine Spirit within Him, God the Son made Himself perfect man. Perfect man is perfectly obedient to God.

That is why the Church encourages us to make, during Lent, quiet time, time to listen for the Holy Spirit because if we cannot hear we cannot obey. This is important at any time, of course, but especially so during this penitential season.

In His perfect manhood, Jesus also shows His great sympathy for our human condition. He was completely without sin, so no sinful urge could possibly arise within Him. But He allowed Himself to be subjected to the external temptations of the devil.

In this, we can see the loving arms of Jesus Christ reaching out to us. We can hear His gentle voice saying, I know what you are enduring. The writer of the Epistle to The Hebrews says, for in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. Heb.2:18.

We must expect the devil to attack us, perhaps more so during Lent than at other times. He hates it when we are trying to be good and if he was prepared to attack Jesus, he is certainly going to have a go at us. The disciple is not greater than his master.

But Jesus knows all this and He is with us. His arms are always extended to us. He understands our tribulation, not because of the Cross, but because He has been in that vale of tears through which we travel. For me, this lifts from Lent a great deal of the burden and lightens the remainder with hope.

Jesus asks only that we do come to Him, in fasting and in prayer as He, in His manhood went to The Father. Fasting is a requirement, for those who have no reason not to. In Mt. 6:16, which we read on Ash Wednesday, Jesus does not say, if ye fast. He says, when ye fast. It is one of those acts of penitence which is required of those who can do it. Those who cannot, usually for health reasons, must find other acts of contrition. The Church specifies only two obligatory fasting days, but for the contrite, more are most certainly in order.

Fasting is not just an act of contrition, of course. It is a means of subduing the flesh under the spirit. By such acts we focus our attention more on God. I certainly find that when I fast, there are times when I can only avoid food by calling upon God and reminding myself of that sacrifice of our Lord upon the Cross. A little hunger now and again pales into insignificance against that.

And what of prayer? Time and time again Jesus shows by example that we must pray. He tells us to pray and He even tells us how to pray.

Towards the end of this Lenten journey, we will hear Him tell us to pray, twice in a short space of time. On both occasions He gives us the reason. From the Gospel appointed for Wednesday in Holy Week, Luke 21, Pray, that ye enter not into temptation. Luke 21:40 and in v46, arise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells us that prayer is our protection against succumbing to temptation. What a message for Lent!

May God grant us a truly Holy Lent. May we, through His Grace acknowledge Him as Almighty God; thank Him for His boundless Love; throw ourselves upon His Mercy; be renewed by Him in His image; offer to Him broken and contrite hearts and receive His perfect forgiveness. We ask this in name of Jesus Christ, our perfect example, our hope and our Saviour. Amen.

Peter Jardine+
Lent 1, 2006