It’s been a long Lent. Perhaps it began for you when the pandemic broke out and we entered our first lockdown. Perhaps it began when you first became aware of the lack of leadership in key institutions, or a great silence in the church. Perhaps it began when you first recognized how sexism, racism, classism, or homo- or transphobia have shaped and scarred you. Perhaps your Lent began in the harshness and wilderness of your childhood. Whatever, whenever, for many of us it’s been a long Lent.
Lent is a sombre season in the church calendar. It formally begins on Ash Wednesday, 2 March 2022; and it’s a forty day wilderness period of serious reflection and prayer. During this time, we seek more than ever to recognise the evil forces in the world and our complicity in them; and we try to face up to our idolatrous dependency on things other than God. Yet in our congregation, many of us already seem to spend a great deal of time doing these things. Year-round, in our worship, prayer, wrestling with the scriptures, and conversations, I see a clear focus on the hard, the sinful, and our own complicity and struggles; and I see a strong commitment to unmasking our dependencies on money, class, skills, whiteness, and all the other things which stop us from fully trusting God. In fact, there are times when it seems like we are all a bit stuck in Lent.
Many years ago, I had a friend with extremely serious food allergies and intolerances. She could eat perhaps only twenty different foods; anything else could make her sick or even anaphylactic. One Lent, she said to me, “Everyone’s giving up chocolate and coffee and things. As if I could give anything up. There’s almost nothing I can eat!” I agreed that, for her, giving up food would be silly. Then I remembered that, a few months earlier, her specialist had told her to try Lindt 85% cocoa chocolate. He suggested just a little nibble at first each day, then gradually building up to half a square, to test and develop tolerance. I also knew that she, very reasonably, didn’t like to try new things, because they so often made her sick; and that although she had talked about it, she hadn’t actually given it a go. So I said, “Why don’t you start eating chocolate this Lent?”
What happened next is between her and me and God. But the story comes to mind because I think right now we all could use a little chocolate. So this Lent we will focus less on wilderness and more on life on the other side of the cross: a life enlivened by the spirit-breath which the Risen Christ has poured into the world. The way we’ll do this is by sharing our stories about the fruit of the spirit — that is, the visible signs of spirit-life — one for each day of Lent. Regular attenders will receive a hard copy of the Lent Book; others will find the readings popping up daily on the website.
In previous years, some of you have said our Lent Books are like a box of chocolates: so this is your invitation to eat. Savour the readings, nibbling them in order one each day; or pick and choose at random; or gobble them all up in an evening. How you read and use this book is entirely up to you.
But eat knowing that these chocolates are special: they never run out! Even better, they make more chocolate. Perhaps someone’s story will remind you of a time when you had a similar experience; or perhaps, simply in reading a story, you might sense the spirit’s fruit within you. For as I read through these stories, something interesting happened. When I read Ishmael’s reflection on joy, I noticed a rising bubbling joyful feeling surging up within me; when I read Mercy’s reflections on her sisters, I felt warmed to the cockles of my heart.
Many stories had the effect of bringing about an experience of the very spirit-quality they were describing, and this shouldn’t be a surprise. For we are celebrating the spirit of the Word made flesh. We know words create worlds, even our words, even worlds within us. So as you read, be alert not just to the stories on the page but to the ever-present gift of the holy breath within you. And share, handing these chocolates around to family, friends, neighbours, even strangers; because I reckon everyone could use a little more chocolate.
The first story goes up on our website next Wednesday 2 March; and regulars: collect your copy of the booklet at our face to face service this coming Sunday 27 February.
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