Glencairn Methodist Church
The beginning of Lent
"Brethren, there hath been, from ancient times, a godly custom in the Church, that, at the beginning of Lent, Christian people should be admonished, in an especial manner, of the great indignation of God against sin, and be moved thereby to earnest and true repentance, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
I'll bet it is quite a while since you heard this read in church on Ash Wednesday! It is the opening sentence of "A Penitential Service" from the old Prayer Book1 and when I was newly ordained (1985) and working in St James and St Silas, Belfast, we read this service every year that I was there.
Ash Wednesday is very early this year, on the 6th February in fact, and while many people will come to church on that day, it is unlikely that the same words will be used. Nevertheless it is good for us to be reminded "of the great indignation of God against sin", because sin is that which keeps us separated from God, and it is that which causes much pain and unhappiness to God's people.
But remember, St John tells us that "if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1: 8,9). So all of who "do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways"2 know that their sins are forgiven and don't need to go on beating themselves up with guilt. It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will help us to follow God's commandments and walk in his ways.
People sometimes fast during the forty days of Lent, perhaps exercising self discipline to go without a meal some days, or to give up some dietary treats like chocolate. They do this to remind themselves of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness at the start of his ministry. This helps focus their thoughts on God, and on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which won for us our redemption.
People sometimes also do something extra during Lent like reading a Lenten study book. It is good for all of us to read more about Christianity, and books at all levels are available in Christian book shops (like The Good Book Shop) or on the Internet. In this way we exercise our minds, and obey that part of the Great Commandment which instructs us to "love God will all your mind" (Mark 12: 30).
Lent is not a burden for Christians. It is a period when we try to "take some time out" to be with God, to listen to him, to learn more about him, to love him, so that we may serve him better.
1 Book of Common Prayer (1926) A Penitential Service (p 236 of 1960 edition)
2 Book of Common Prayer (2004) p 185.
1 February 2008
NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at http://glencairn.connor.anglican.org/previousmessages.htm