By Bishop Linda Nicholls
When I was a child Lent was the season of the church year when we gave up eating candy and filled a Lenten money card with quarters to give away.
I am not sure that these practices actually helped me understand the meaning of repentance but I did understand that Lent was sombre serious time! Lent is the season our church year that invites us to see our life in Christ through the aspects of repentance, forgiveness and grace.
As I grew in my faith I discovered the significance of this season, beginning with the solemnity of Ash Wednesday – ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ – and the call to examine my life in light of my baptismal promises. Where and how had I failed to live into what I had promised?
I searched for the habits and activities that were clouding my ability to let the light of Christ shine through me. There is always lots of scope for this examination and personal house-cleaning during the forty days of the season!
Sometime later, I appreciated a focus of not just ‘giving up something for Lent’ but of seeking what positive life and faith affirming changes I needed to make to be a healthier Christian in body, mind and spirit. Whether it was healthier eating habits (or fasting!), exercise, prayer or time with friends, this too proved helpful spiritually in recognizing God’s desire for us to be joyfully whole. One year it included slowing down – especially while driving – and discovering the gifts of a gentler pace of life.
More recently, I find myself exploring my participation in corporate sin, the sin we share in by our participation in a world of systemic pain and brokenness.
For Anglicans this has been brought home as we have faced the part our Church has played in residential schools. We try to avoid it by saying ‘it wasn’t me’ – but I am learning to see how easily it could have been! It lies too in the ways in which our culture and social communities share in economic or environmental conditions that are damaging to people and the land. Whether we want to or not we share in the effects of climate change. We see it in the subtle ways we participate in discrimination or prejudice, most often unconsciously, but still evident. It is at the heart of Christian antisemitism that blames the death of Jesus on Jews and ignores our own participation. This corporate sin is much more difficult to see because it is part of the air we breathe and the conditions we live in and can easily be blamed on someone else – anyone else. Yet mourning our share in these attitudes, prejudices, lifestyle and choices is the starting place for participating in change for us and for the future.
Lent invites us layer by layer to examine our lives – for the individual neglect of our baptism promises, for our need to affirm goodness and life in new ways and for our need to look at how we share in the pain and wounds of the world.
At different times in our lives we need to explore each of these layers. Which one is calling your heart this year? How will you enter into the self-examination and repentance?
Begin with the sign of ashes: atttend worship on Ash Wednesday in your parish. Share in the 5 Marks of Love study offered to every parish for this year – Pray for the grace to see where our lives need to be changed – renewed – forgiven and where our world needs to be transformed.
Almighty and everlasting God,
you despise nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our brokenness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.