The period of Lent that builds towards our Easter Celebrations can be a time of reflection and journeying. As we hear once again familiar words and stories from scripture, as we consider our faith and our relationship with the world around us we travel with God. And like a favourite holiday destination or walk in the countryside, this journey doesn’t necessarily need to be something new. For many it is a refreshing reminder of who we are, what we believe and where God is in our day to day living.
If our preachers Sunday by Sunday are following the lectionary then we should be taken along the Lenten road via Mark’s and John’s gospel. The first Sunday told us of Jesus baptism and then his wilderness experience. A welcome reminder that however close we are to God, however much we are blessed by the Holy Spirit’s presence and the knowledge of the Father’s love for us; we are still human. As such, like Jesus, we can be faced with questions, doubts and fears.
In the second week we hear the words of Jesus reminding us that living godly and faithful lives can be difficult, yet he still calls us to ‘take up our cross’ and follow. An image that requires us to consider what is central to our lives and what we can live without. The Christian life is not always comfortable.
Next, we switch to John’s telling of the story. And in his telling of Jesus action in the temple precincts we meet the angry Jesus. He is infuriated by the abuses of the temple system so much that he implies it should be destroyed. He makes a whip and chases out the traders that are there. Here we see a Jesus who is not just concerned with personal devotion but also with worldly systems. It is institutions that need to be healed as well as individuals.
The following week John reminds us of the depth of God’s love. If the previous Sunday we got a glimpse of God’s anger then now we are asked to try and understand the depth of his grace and mercy. We are not to be judged, to be condemned but we are to be saved. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that everyone who has faith in him may not perish but have eternal life.’ (Jn 3:16 REB)
Now we approach Easter with the two Sundays of the Passion; Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday. In the first we hear in John’s gospel echoes of Jesus baptism and wilderness experience. As his arrest and torture approach he once again feels the closeness of his Father and yet the turmoil of being human. The second Sunday takes us back, which I always find rather odd. The preacher is invited to use either John or Mark to tell the story of Jesus approaching Jerusalem on a donkey. Symbolism that I don’t have space to unpack here but it would be certainly understood as parody, challenge and insult by many in the city. For us it marks the beginning of Holy Week. A week in which, if we pay attention, we hear of Jesus’ sharing one last meal with his disciples and of his suffering and death.
I encourage you to journey with God, through Jesus this lent. Whether you’ve done it many times before or if you’ve never really paid attention. It is often in our deeper understanding of the struggles that lead us towards Easter morning that give those longed-for celebrations the depth of meaning they deserve.
Have a challenging and blessed lent. And may God bless you.