Preparation – planning, getting ready, getting down to doing – for the simplest thing (setting up the church for a service, for example) to the more demanding (planning an event, say) some people get on with it, others are ‘last-minuters’. And most of us are somewhere in-between the two extremes.
This applies no less to the season of Lent which, as I write this, has just begun. It is meant to be a time of preparation, a time to draw closer to God. In the early Church it was the time when candidates were instructed prior to their baptism on Easter day. The 40 days from the start of Lent up to Easter days mirrored those 40 days we are told about in the Gospels when, as it says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, “and he was in the desert for forty days”. That desert experience preceded his subsequent work of healing, teaching, dying and rising again, and was clearly a turning point in his life.
Whether one is a believer, or not, taking time to review, reflect, prepare, is currently regarded nowadays as well worthwhile, as an antidote to the busy, rushing, crowded, demanding lives so many people live. How much more so, then, for the believer who, in the same hectic world, struggles to maintain a relationship with God and finds good intentions swamped by external demands. It was ever thus: “For what I want to do I do not, but what I hate I do”, writes St. Paul (Romans 714) wrestling with his own sinfulness. Good therefore that the Church provides a time to encourage believers to take stock and refresh our relationship with God; to reflect on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, to betrayal by his friends, and a cruel death, and then the unexpected experience of the Resurrection. Through these events we believe God is revealed to us – one with us, loving and transforming.
More often than not, however, we do not give ourselves the time and space to be open to God, working in the world and in us. And that brings us back to our need for preparation - but for waiting on God, not for reducing our alcohol intake, or losing weight, or taking up exercise or ….. ! Whatever we may choose to do, or abstain from doing, should merely be a means to remind us of our real goal - to come close to God. The key religious practices of Jesus’ day – prayer, fasting, works of love – are as important as they have ever been, routes to bring us closer to God, the ways in which we can prepare ourselves for the Easter experience, ‘the love that passes all understanding’.
Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, fell this year for the first time since 1945, on Valentine’s Day. It seemed an unusual co-incidence, to mark the importance of love at the beginning of a penitential season, but maybe it’s apposite. I came across a little verse to illustrate this:
Roses are red,
Wednesday’s ashes are grey;
You can’t spell Valentine
Without Lent in the way.
Lent can prepare us for true Love, if we choose to make use of it.
Licensed Lay Minister