My dear friend in Christ
It is eleven months since I sent out the first of what turned out to be many pastoral letters during the pandemic. We were in the middle of Lent then and our church buildings were closed. Who could have believed that I would be writing to you today, as we approach Lent again and that we would still be facing such uncertain times? Of course, it is heartening as we hear about the vaccine rollout and we give thanks to God for the wisdom of those who have developed it. But it doesn’t detract from the fact that deaths have climbed to above 110k in the UK alone and behind every one of them is a heartbroken family. Our NHS is at breaking point and our medical professionals are exhausted and traumatized.
This whole experience of being in lockdown, with churches open, then closed, then opened again with attendance numbers limited and Covid regulations in place, has been a total rollercoaster for everyone. If there are days when you feel completely worn out yourself, then be assured it is perfectly normal in the circumstances.
Ash Wednesday falls on the 17th of February this year. It marks the beginning of our Lenten journey towards Easter. But some of us don’t look forward to Lent. Childhood memories of giving up sweets springs immediately to my mind! Words like ’sacrifice’, ’discipline’ and ’self-denial‘ are often used in ways that suggest that Lent is something to be endured, rather than a time of grace and spiritual growth.
Lent should be a wonderful season of grace for us, if we give ourselves to it but we need to prepare our hearts. If we imagine Lent as an ’ordeal‘ or a time we dread in some way, then we’ll be inclined not to get very much out of it. Lent is a time to anticipate something wonderful that is about to happen.
Our sense of excitement and anticipation will grow more easily this Lent if we begin to imagine what God wants to give us, rather than what God wants from us. Lent is about God’s great desire to bless us. All grace comes from God and is, therefore, God’s gift. It is given to us to free us to love others as God loves us, not something we can do in our strength! Lent is a time to receive what God wants to give us.
To help you in this journey, I am enclosing with this letter a little book of encouragement. (If you are reading this on line, please contact the Vicarage and we will send a book to you). It is produced by the Diocese and contains a reflection and a reference to a bible reading for each day of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Give up something in Lent if you want to but let me urge you to take something on by committing to reading a page of this book every day. I am certain you will be nourished and inspired as we make our way towards Easter.
As we endure lockdown, let’s not endure Lent. Let’s see it as a time of grace and spiritual growth. A time to receive all that God wants to give us.
With brightest blessings for now,