I am keenly aware that there will be many more professional and academic courses out there we could have used this year to go deeper with lent. But I am also conscious that they can often feel remote and impersonal.
Instead, this year I offer you a simple double sided A4 sheet for each week.
I hope in its simplicity, that this will enable us to do what all Lent courses seek to do, to bring us into conversation with God. In the end, He is the only one who knows what the future holds and if we wish to build a better future, it is only by coming close to him that we will start to hear his guiding voice.
To focus ourselves this lent, I’ve shared an extract from a diocese letter Bishop Donald wrote last week. I hope you find his thoughts are helpful as we begin our journey together ‘out of the wilderness’
I am of course very conscious of the level of weariness that we all feel. Proper breaks and holidays compromised or lost, no clarity about the coming year in that or any other respect, relationships stressed: it’s been a very tough year, and reduced energy levels don’t make forward planning easy. However, the next year or two are the most enormous opportunity to re-think and re-build that we are likely to see during the course of our ministries, and we must not waste it. That opportunity, and the knowledge that our energising, life-giving God is with us, should fire us on to give ourselves and lead our churches into the future.
So, what will we do when we can get back into our church buildings in relatively normal ways? I hope nobody is saying or thinking, Let’s get back to the way we were. That would indicate a failure to learn, a failure to see and take opportunities, a failure of nerve and of trust. Equally I hope nobody is thinking, Let’s forget the old, and press on into a new world. (I acknowledge that to be rather unlikely in the C of E!) Instead, I hope we are all thinking, and beginning to talk, about being a new kind of mixed-mode church for the foreseeable future.
Our hope at the moment is that we are now exiting this time of wilderness. We have leant much in this last year, although many of those lessons have been forced upon us. We have wrestled with questions like ‘what is the church if the building is closed’? ‘How do I support others if I cannot leave my house’. ‘Can my living room be a place of worship’? As Bishop Donald said, it would be a shame if we do not learn from these lessons.
Just as the Children of Israel left Egypt and wandered through the wilderness before entering the promised land, they too learnt their own lessons. Just like us, many of these lessons were forced upon them. ‘What does it mean to be God’s people’, ‘what have we learnt about God in this time’, ‘what does it look like to be sustained by God’ and ‘what does it mean to celebrate his faithfulness’? These are just some of the questions I am hoping we can explore together this Lenten time.
We will return to our beloved building soon, my hope is for Easter if it is safe to do so. Activity and events will return. Food and fellowship and worship and serving will be at the core of God’s church once again but let us not forget the lessons he has taught each one of us in this time of wilderness.
So, to get the most out of this time of lent, may I invite you to do three things:
Firstly, to committ to a regular time to reflect with this sheet. It may be you read a section 5 minutes a day or spend an hour in the week. Whatever works best for you, but to committ to a regular time over these next seven weeks. Equally whilst this can be done on your own, it may helpful to do share this time of reflection with those in your house. Although we may be able to guess their answers, who knows what you may discover about each other as well.
Secondly, to carve out a space in your house and make this time special. It could be as simple as taking a coffee table, place your Bible and this sheet on with a nice cloth and some flowers or a candle. Or if you want to go big you could take over a room and be creative and set up a prayer tent. Whatever you choose to do, find a space and do something to recognise that this is a special place to pray and reflect.
Finally, and this may seem obvious, but to be open to God. These questions and passages will I hope be interesting, but the real impact will be if we open ourselves up to hear from God. Who knows what he is eager to talk to you about or who and what he may put on your heart? But there is only ever one way to hear from him and that is to allow him to talk.
Although we will return to our building soon, we will not be the same people as when we left. Together, let’s reflect on our journey and draw nearer to he who offers to lead us and guide us. May we all draw closer to God as we come out of the wilderness.