Rather than producing a single Lent message from Bishop John, this year we are publishing a series of video Lent reflections from the senior staff in the Diocese.
Easter Sunday - Bishop John
If I were to ask you what’s the most well known word in human language, I wonder what you’d say? I’ll give you a hint: it’s a religious word. And it’s a remarkable one. It was transliterated from the original Hebrew into New Testament Greek, and then into Latin and then into English and lots of other languages. It’s used by Muslims as well as Christians and Jews. You may have guessed what it is by now – if you haven’t, I’ll put you out of your misery. It’s the word ‘Amen’.
In the Old Testament, Amen is an acronym meaning "God, King [who is] Reliable, Trustworthy.’ So it means every time we say the word ‘Amen’, we have grasped something about the reliability of God. How can we know that God is sovereign, that God is trustworthy, that God is reliable? Well, supremely through the resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate at Easter.
In that resurrection we see that the love of God, which created us, which sustains us in being, is more powerful than any other force in all creation. But it will overcome pain and evil, will conquer even death itself. In our spoiled world, threatened with disaster as never before as a result of global warming; in our divided nation, still wrangling over Brexit and seemingly no nearer to a solution, we need something reliable. We need look no further than the love of God.
When we’ve grasped something of that love, everything else will be put into a different perspective, a Godly perspective, a joyful perspective, an eternal perspective, an Easter perspective. If we have grasped that then we shall be able to say amen, not just with our lips, but with our whole lives as we reflect some of that reliable, trustworthy love of God in everything that we do and everything that we are.
If we can manage that then a great cheer of ‘Amen’ will go up from heaven, from the heavenly host all rejoicing, not only in the reliable love of God, but in the reliable love that we have for God and neighbour as a reflection of it. May God grant you a joyful and blessed and glorious Easter. Amen!
Palm Sunday - Bishop Graham
“Bwana asifiwe” (Praise the Lord) from the Diocese of Morogoro in Tanzania, where a group of us from the Diocese of Worcester are visiting our link diocese and our sisters and brothers in Christ here, and what an incredible time we’ve had as we’ve walked with them – something of a journey with Jesus in this place.
We’ve been learning how to walk together as sisters and brothers in Christ within the Anglican Communion. We’ve been sharing the good things – wonderful food, and dancing, and music, and the great joy and vibrancy of worship here – the zest of life.
We’ve been embracing also something of the pain of this place, of crop failures, of poverty, of drought. And we’ve been sharing something of the agony of those who are facing really difficult times in their lives, including a young woman in Berega Hospital, just a girl, who had lost her baby, just before we had arrived.
And we’ve waited, waited on Christ, and the transformation that he promises.
On Palm Sunday we wait also – we wait to enter Jerusalem in the company of Jesus and his friends, with the joy of the “Alleluias” and the “Hosannas” and the vibrancy and the zest, and the joy of the procession into Jerusalem.
But very soon, after sharing the good things with him, as he takes bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it, we enter into the agony, the pain of betrayal. We share in the sense of the bereavement, the gut-wrenching emptiness of his disciples and his mother. And we wait with them.
We wait, we watch and we pray, waiting for the transformation that Jesus brings for the life of the whole world.
we’re caught up in Jesus’s drama, just as we’ve been privileged to be caught up
in the drama of the lives of people here in Morogoro. I’m so thankful for the
exuberance of Palm Sunday
that links with the exuberance of the people we’ve met here, setting us on a path, on a journey, through this holiest of weeks.
Lent 5 - Director of Ministry & Discipleship
What I’m holding is a telescope. I’ve owned it for about three years, but it’s much older than that, in spite of which it still does a remarkably good job. The purpose of this telescope is to enable clarity of vision, to help us to see clearly. That’s one of the great themes of Lent: self-examination - seeking to view ourselves with greater clarity.
I guess this telescope is around a hundred years old. I wonder what it’s been used for over that time. Perhaps for some birdwatching, appreciating beauty. Perhaps it has also been used in war. And maybe even by a traffic warden on performance -related pay – trying to spot as many offences as possible. Whether we see clearly is one thing. Our purpose in doing so also matters.
So what is God’s purpose when he looks at our lives, and in wanting us to search ourselves? Is God like a traffic warden on performance -related pay? Is God delighted the more misdemeanours he spots? I don’t think so. I think the purpose of seeing with clarity our failings and distortions and distractions, is that we may be freed from them. What’s more, God also wants us to see with clarity all that is already good. Either way, God’s purpose, God’s intention is that life and goodness and blessing might flourish, for ourselves and for others.
I believe that God looks at us with clarity and also with compassion. And I think that’s how he wants us to view ourselves and others.
If I sense that I’m being judged with no compassion, but with hostility, my response will be defensive. When that happens, I’m much less likely to learn or to change. But if I know that someone views me with kindness, and wants what’s best, I relax, I’ll unclench, I’ll be much more honest. I’ll see with more clarity, and that is much more likely to lead to understanding, to transformation, to life and to blessing, for myself and for others.
So this Lent, do seek to see with clarity, but do so with kindness and compassion. The clarity of truth sets us free most fully in Jesus. Because in Jesus, God’s truth and grace, God’s clarity and compassion, are held together.
Mothering Sunday - The Archdeacon of Dudley
We are blessed in this diocese to have two religious communities in our midst.I was at Glasshampton Monastery recently and noticed the inscription above the door: “There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother”. I was looking through a bramble hedge, and could see the words behind thorns. We can’t begin to imagine the torment and anguish of Mary as she stood at the cross watching Jesus die in excruciating agony. But she stayed, with a mother’s love. We know that she was to experience Jesus rising again on Easter morning, but at that moment, she was in a state of hopeless despair.
Jesus watched his mother and his best friend watching him die, and movingly encouraged them to care for each other. A few hours earlier he had told his disciples to love each other as he had loved them. They weren’t related. The only thing they had in common was him. But that was sufficient reason to love each other, to care for each other.
The only thing lots of people in most churches have in common is their relationship with God through Jesus. Most congregations are a disparate bunch! But as God’s kingdom people, we’re called to care for each other, even when it’s costly or inconvenient.
This is what being kingdom people with shared values of love, compassion, justice and freedom is all about. Building awareness that care isn’t the remit of a special few, but is rather something that all who are made in the image of God can do, should do.
So this Mothering Sunday, when we thank our mums for their care, and thank God for them, let’s reflect on how well we are caring for those in our communities, .Are you actively looking out for those who need some practical help, or a listening ear? Are you caring for and investing in the next generation, so that disciples are grown? Are you making sure that the lonely are in families? Are you following the model of Jesus, loving one another and those around you?
I pray that each of us, knowing we are cared for by God, may live and love well this Lent, as caring kingdom people.
Lent 3 - Dean of Worcester
I wonder if you decided to give up things for Lent, and if you did, I wonder how well you are doing? I can’t tell you how well I am doing, because I took the trouble to record this on Shrove Tuesday, so all my Lenten failures are still ahead of me.
But what we need to remember is that Lent is more than just giving up things. Christianity speaks of three Lenten disciplines, of which ‘giving things up’, or ‘fasting’, is only the second. The first is prayer, and the third is almsgiving. Jesus speaks of all three in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘when you pray’, ‘when you fast’, ‘when you give alms’. He doesn’t say ‘if’; only ‘when’: he takes it for granted that we do all three.
Prayer is attention to God, spending time with God, listening to God. And almsgiving: well, the word alms means ‘mercy’, so almsgiving is what we more usually call charitable giving; sharing our good things with those who need them. Attending to God, and attending to those around us – that is prayer and almsgiving. And in between comes fasting, giving things up for God’s sake, simplifying our lives so that we can serve him, and serve our neighbour better.
We are well on the way with our Lenten journey; but don’t worry if the journey hasn’t gone too well so far. It’s not a competition, or a marathon. It’s a walk with the Lord beside us, and he only asks us to pray, and fast, and give alms, so that we can learn to love him more.
Lent 2 - Archdeacon of Worcester
I don’t have a particularly good relationship with Lent – maybe I don’t have great will-power, which I don’t, or possibly it feels too much like a test, and I’m not convinced God wants to set us tests. Sin seems to loom large, and it can feel somehow, well, ungracious.
But for centuries it has been part of the Christian experience, a season which marks out the Christian year, and in its own way tells something of the Christian story. It is after all something we do together so it’s not really about what I give up or what spiritual heights I aspire to: it is what we’re doing together.
What we’re doing together is saying that actually we don’t have all the answers. Just as Jesus had his forty days in the wilderness, we all have wilderness experiences inside – and that’s alright. The Christian faith isn’t just about being on cloud nine, but amid those bleak times, wow, don’t the chinks of glory make a big difference.
Bishop Rowan Williams once described sin as forgetfulness of God’s goodness. Lent is that time, being mindful of our sins, when we can remember how good God is – a penitential season, yes, which reminds us of the generosity of God’s love.
Some of you will have heard of St Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order, based on a rule he put together in the sixth century. It orders daily life, in this case in the monastery, and includes what you can and cannot do. What impresses me about it is that for almost every rule he seems to make an exception. The rule is not there to catch out the weak or the fragile – no, it is there to hold them and support them in their life together.
Maybe that is the sense of this season of Lent. It is not there to test our discipleship or endurance, but, as we keep this penitential season together, to remind us of God’s goodness, another way of showing us God’s love, how much he loves us.
Lent 1 - Bishop John
Lent is a time for reassessing our priorities, a time to seek to see things from a more godly perspective. Traditionally Christians have attempted this through giving something up. ‘What are you giving up for Lent?’ we are sometimes asked.
This year the Archbishop of Canterbury is encouraging us to start something as well. He suggest, for example, spending time each day praying for someone or some situation in our broken world, or finding some small act of kindness each day, even the smallest thing like making time to chat with someone who is having a bad time.
He says that the surprising thing about this process of starting rather than giving up is that it can have the same effect: we begin to see where our hearts and minds need changing, we start to understand where we have become selfish or uncaring or indifferent, we find ourselves turning towards the fuller, more loving, more hope filled life that Jesus longs for each of us to live.
I echo the Archbishop’s encouragement and, as a suggestion of what a small act of kindness might be, I commend this year’s Bishop’s Lent Appeal for our brothers and sisters in Peru. It’s so easy to take for granted all the blessings we enjoy in this country. Giving a little to those with whom we are joined in faith through our link, for whom life is so hard, might help to make us more thankful - and therefore happier as well as more loving.