Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 21st February 2021
Gospel: Mark 1:12-15
And, of course, we cannot gather to worship together in the way that we would like. Our Lent group cannot take place, and the Lent Lunches we hold each week during Lent – well, they’re off, too.
This Lent, I think, will feel more raw, and more difficult, than in other years – because while every year there are ways we make Lent a fairly barren time – well, it may feel like we have been in the desert for months already; and you wouldn’t be alone, if you felt that you had already given up as much as you could.
Lent is a time when we withdraw from some of our earthly pleasures, but we do not do this for its own sake – Lent is not simply a 40-day diet period – but we do it in order to unite ourselves with Jesus, who spent those forty days in the wilderness.
This period has different names in different languages: in Latin and Greek languages, it’s simply called “forty” or “fortieth”; Germans call it “Fastenzeit” – or “fasting time”; but it is our name, Lent, that I like best. It comes from the old English word “lencten” – meaning the season of spring. It’s gained this name partly because of when it falls – but this truly is the springtime of the Church – the time when we grow.
The missal calls this a joyful season: it may seem like a strange name for a time given over to penitence. But that’s often the way: our perspective is not God’s perspective. From a human standpoint, the awful events on Calvary are a tragedy; but they have given us the name, “Good Friday” – because from a heavenly perspective, that is the day that restored us to God.
And from a human perspective, it might seem like madness to abstain from meat, alcohol, chocolate – whatever – especially at a time when our life is already curtailed – but God turns our expectations upside down.
Yes, Lent is a penitential time; but it is not a time for punishment – these two things aren’t the same time. Penitence is God’s better alternative to punishment. Lent is a time when we make our confessions – we admit that we have fallen short of the ideal way of living. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a spring cleaning, when we dust out the cobwebs of our souls. We name, out loud, the things we have done, and so we take away their power. And in return, we receive not a harsh penalty, but God’s gift of forgiveness. If this is something you’ve not done before, or haven’t done for a while, I’d really encourage you to come and try it.
By doing this, and the other spiritual practices we adopt in Lent, we grow in holiness. We grow in spiritual maturity. We grow closer to Jesus. It was only after his forty day fast that he began his preaching ministry; he needed this time to prepare himself for the challenges were to come. And as soon as he finished, he began his ministry, he began to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So as we make our way through these forty days, let’s not forget why we do it – and who we do it with. We fast to unite ourselves with Jesus in his suffering, and in our suffering, Jesus unites himself to us, too. Angels watched over him in the desert, and they watch over us, too.
So in this Lent, a Lent like no other, let’s not despair. Let’s not abandon it as one thing too many. But let’s remind us why we do what we do; let’s look out for those signs of spring in our spirit.