The First Sunday in Lent 2014
Sisters and Brothers,
I have decided that as opportunities to write to both Rumney and St Andrew’s seem sparse – perhaps this is due to my lengthy sermons?! I’ve chosen to write a letter for the beginning of Lent, which I hope will provide some positive food for thought and some encouragement as we journey together towards the high point of our Christian year when we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord at Easter!
In his first official letter to the Church ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ – ‘The Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis wrote: “There are some Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter… I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress”. I wonder friends, whether in the light of day, with all the discussions we have had recently and will continue to have, and with the facts we face – both financial and spiritual, whether our joy – the Joy of the Gospel, of being children of God has suffered just a little? Perhaps we have been in the last six months, a little like those Christians Pope Francis speaks of…living in what we see and experience as our reality, without seeing this reality in the context of the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection…!
If you feel as though your joy has suffered – take heart, you are not alone! It’s a big task, which we have before us, but it is a task that God will enable us to do and there are no easy answers to the questions! Perhaps we need reminding that God understands our sense of desolation, frustration and fatigue as we wrestle with how to be Christ where we are and a reminder that this God will not leave us as orphans – we only have to look at scripture to know this fact. Nor will God dishonour our efforts and our prayers to see our communities (which God has placed us into for a reason) flourish.
I believe, and perhaps some of you will agree, that the reason we face such a difficult time as a Church is because at the heart of our Christian faith is the notion and understanding of sacrifice – this is indeed what Lent and Easter are about, and Easter is the heart of our faith. It is difficult to make sense of sacrifice for those whose world is almost entirely centered on satisfaction, instant gratification and selfishness – two things that are incompatible with the Christian life, because these are not the attributes of God revealed to us through the life of Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to reject self, to love God and neighbour before all else – our faith (at its best) is a selfless activity of living out the Gospel. I believe the main task in this age is to make sacrifice appealing, and that is not so simple if your “joy levels” are running on empty…
However you choose to observe Lent, whether you give something up, or fast, or do something different; I want to ask you this Lent, to join me in focusing on regaining and increasing our Joy. That’s all. To be reminded of how Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God made us feel when we first came to Christ – can you remember where you were? What you felt? Why you chose to follow this God who sent His son to die upon the cross just for you…? When we remember how we felt, then it is easier to regain our joy – a joy we must long for others to experience and know. Every morning, as soon as you sit up – think of the joy you felt in your heart when you first fell in love with God. Then thank God for that feeling.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the fact that the only reason we have churches today, the only reason we all get together on Sunday mornings is due to those early followers of Jesus Christ, of which there were only 12 in the beginning! At those points in history, when the future of the Church looked its darkest, it was always the prélude to a bright and radiant turn around. We take our example, then, from those Apostles, Saints and Martyrs who have gone before us, and we ‘do the little things’ as St David said to his friends as he was promoted to Glory.
We keep The Faith.
We break bread.
We proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again in glory, and we press on with the task that is before us.
I pray that this Easter, you receive the full joy of the Gospel, the knowledge that to live in Christ is to live in eternal life and the assurance in the heart, that the God who has brought us to this place in time, is a faithful and loving God.
This, is a joy that no darkness can consume, a flame that no wind can extinguish, a joy which will shine from us into the whole world.
Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat!
Christ Wins! Christ Reigns! Christ Rules!
Let us never forget it.