Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, 21<sup>st</sup> February 2021
By Revd Deacon David Bean
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
So, friends, here we are at the start of Lent. I wonder, did you have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday? Did you allow yourself a day of celebration and feasting before 40 days of fasting, self denial, repentance and prayer, in preparation for Easter? That's where the idea of pancakes came from, of course, to use up the flour and eggs and the butter before fasting over Lent.
Of course, most people don't fast from food entirely any more: instead they might give something up, like chocolate, perhaps, or alcohol, or sugar in tea.
But this year seems to be different. In conversation and on social media, quite a few people have said that they are not going to give anything up this year.
One person said that he was abstaining from nothing this Lent, taking nothing new on, and instead was going to concentrate on simply putting one foot in front of the other until we're all got through this pandemic lock down.
Another said that the last 11 months had felt like one, long, endless Lent; like 11 months in a wilderness.
“Why deny yourself little pleasures, those things that make life worth while, in a time like this?”, she asked.
I understand completely. But perhaps there's another of looking at Lent, inspired by Jesus' time in the wilderness.
If you joined in with week one of our Lent course, either on line or at home, you might have learned that, although the Judean desert, to which the Holy Spirit drove Jesus, is undoubtedly a hot, inhospitable, dangerous place, it is not endless miles of Saharan-like sand dunes. The terrain is rocky not sandy; there are hills and ravines, with streams in the summer and rivers in the winter. There is shade, shelter and refreshment.
“Jesus would not have been without the means to stave off death by thirst or starvation”,
- we were told -
“but vitally this desert is a place of isolation, away from the distractions of people and the normal demands of everyday life. It is an opportunity to escape and contemplate the essence and purpose of life.”
Perhaps the isolation and the seeking of God's will, rather than abstinence, might similarly be our focus this Lent?
I've no doubt that at his baptism, Jesus had a powerful sense of realisation of who he was, that he was the Father's Son, loved and valued, just for who he was. The experience of this affirmation was so strong that he felt utterly compelled to seek out time alone, without distractions, so he could direct his attention solely on God, and on what God wanted from him in his ministry.
I think that gives us a pattern for our Lent this year, to spend time prayerfully focussed on these sorts questions:-
Who is the person God has created us to be?
What does God want from me?
Lent is a time of repentance, too, so we might ask God to show us if we fall short of this, but doing so knowing that we are loved, redeemed, forgiven. That we too are beloved sons and daughters of God.
We might ask such questions of ourselves collectively as a Parish, too, such as:-
Who has God created us to be?
What does God want from us?
How might we be good news to our community?
If fasting, or giving something up, helps you to focus on God and questions like this, then that's great. But if, like those others I have quoted, this self denial feels just impossible this year, then why not try to start a new “Holy Habit” instead?
A daily time of prayer, perhaps? Some time with the Bible? Or just to light a candle and have a daily quiet time? But it needs to become a habit – Lent being about not so much self denial as self discipline...
One of my Holy Habits this year is to keep a Lenten journal – but to write in this daily, rather than my normal 2 or 3 times a week. Someone once told me that the secret of journalling was “to write something every day, even if it's only one word!” Until it becomes a Holy Habit, I suppose.
Try it, find yourself a new Holy Habit this Lent. Let me know how you get on!
God bless, my friends.
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. <em>Amen.</em>