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.
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.