One of the great joys of Lent for me is The Lent Prose. I first heard it when I went to a very High Anglican Church at University and ever since then, Lent just doesn’t feel “right” unless we sing it every Sunday! It’s words are a striking challenge: “Hear us O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have sinned against thee.” It focuses us outwards, acknowledging our weakness and need of a power greater than ourselves. The stress is less on introspection and more on simply asking God for grace. It creates what I can best describe as a “mood” of penitence with which I can engage.
Mood is an under-rated aspect of spirituality. Too often we present spirituality as words or thoughts. Or as imaginings. Creating a mood uses our sub-conscious which can affect us more deeply than words or pictures. Mood can be created by place, music, vision or smell. It is part of a holistic spirituality, embracing the totality of our being – body mind and spirit. Perhaps we can get in the mood for receiving Divine grace today if we listen to the mood music of Christian liturgy in Lent?
Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla. Rome 4th century.
Lent comes around each year. We hear the familiar words, experience the familiar rituals. Calls for a death to self and selfishness, renewal of life through the mystery of Easter and baptism. This year it hit me slightly differently.
On Shrove Tuesday I went to a nursing home to anoint a 95 year old who was drawing to the end of her allotted span. “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”. Then on Ash Wednesday, a text came from a member of the congregation announcing the birth of their new daughter, born the day before. Shortly thereafter a message came saying the old lady had passed on that morning.
Death and life intertwine in the Christian mystery of crucifixion and resurrection. Death leads to life and life to death. We experience both in the mystery of prayer, perhaps especially at this time of year. Penitence breaks down our self centred self, forgiveness brings us to the joy of renewed life.
He was seized and arrested. Due process was followed.
Trial before the religious Judges. Due process was followed.
Transferred to the Procurators Court. Again, due process.
A Galilean? Not our jurisdiction – transfer to Herod. That’s the due process.
Back to the Procurator – for sentencing. Due process.
Whips and a Cross. The ultimate Due Process.
And now we await – God’s Due Process….
Breaking barriers is costly. I once endured one of the most excruciating School services I have ever been to which tried to explain this. I was on a placement in Sunderland and was dragged along to the Diocesan Schools service in Durham Cathedral.. The well meaning (but fundamentally clueless) organiser had arranged a couple of schools to act out one of those little play-let things that the Wild Goose Worship Group do so well and too many clergy do themselves badly. The plot was OK: 2 villages fall out, build walls to separate themselves (out of crisp boxes), along comes mysterious stranger, who breaks down the barriers, dies in the process and the villagers are shocked into reconcilliation. Sadly, the organiser reckoned without our kids from the Garths, whose response to being hit by falling crisp boxes was to chuck them back at the other village/school across the aisle! My abiding memory is of the the Vicar and I helpless with laughter clutching the font for support as a crossfire of Golden Wonder boxes arced like tracer across the crossing of Durham Cathedral, whilst the organiser jumped up and down shouting for the kid’s to “Stop it!” (to no avail), whilst the Bishop of Jarrow in cope and mitre looked on in a gently bemused way!
Humour apart, breaking barriers can really cost. My friend Issac Poobalan (pictured above), a Rector in Aberdeen has opened his church to the mosque next door. This has caught the headlines – and in a good way. He has also been subjected to abuse on line. Breaking barriers can cost you, even if the ranting of “trolls” is small beer compared to the cross. Thank God some people are willing to do it still.
“Let my people go” was part of last night’s lesson at Evensong. It was the request of God to Pharaoh to free the enslaved People of God.The response was not liberation, but an increase in persecution.
Freedom came eventually but at a high cost. Freedom, true freedom is costly. The Cross itself is witness to that. That’s the freedom we seek through engagement with God, but it may entail cost. We tend to want freedom sans pain. That isn’t always possible. God gives us just enough grace to bear the pain sometimes. Just enough grace to make it to the next stop. Enough. Just.