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The Springtime of the Church

An address by Fr John Slater

02 March 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

What are you doing for Lent? If someone asks you that, you know pretty much what they are expecting you to say - that just like last year you are going without sugar in your tea, without cake, without chocolate or even without alcohol! And why do we do it? Well the intention is surely in some way to embrace sacrifice and so identify with our Lord in his great sacrifice. But the leap of imagination from cake to Calvary is really impossible.

A Nigerian friend once told me that in his country Christians feel challenged by the seriousness with which Muslims keep the fast from dawn to dusk for the 28 days of the lunar month of Ramadan. Nigerian Christians therefore fast in the same way, eating only one meal a day for the 40 days of Lent. Now that is sacrifice and the link with Calvary becomes real.

The season of Lent coincides with spring and the word Lent may be related to the lengthening of the days at this time. So it is said that Lent is the springtime of the Church - its season of growth. So, doing something for Lent ought really to be about our growth as Christians into deeper faith and fuller Christian maturity. And how do we do this?

There is a model of Christian life in the Acts of the Apostles, They continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2.42). Here are four areas where we might make some progress this Lent. First, we renew our understanding of the teaching of the apostles by reading the scriptures. But it helps to read the scriptures with the advice of a biblical scholar which is why I am suggesting we might study St Mark’s Gospel using the short commentary by Tom Wright who is Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey. If anyone would like a copy of this book, please let me know.

Then comes the fellowship which I think in Acts means the Christian community but which we might wish to widen to include the communities where we live and work. For the Christian, love for God means also love for our neighbour. This means that we can grow in love for God by being more loving to our neighbour. And we all know someone who needs help. A friend of mine who is bed-ridden said on the phone just yesterday that when she gets her mobility back she will seek to help others who can do so little for themselves. Dag Hammarskjold, a former Secretary General of the United Nations, said that, In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.

And then, The breaking of bread. Clearly the Eucharist was central to the life of the earliest Christians and it is central to ours also. In his sermon at his Enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday, our new archbishop urged Christians to stand in the place where they see Jesus stands, filled as he was by the grace of the Father. In the Eucharist we do come into the place where Jesus stands, where he fills us with his presence. But we can’t separate the Eucharist from the Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary; he gave us the Eucharist on the night before he died. To receive this bread and this wine, his Body and his Blood, is to receive also his commission to be the vehicles of his loving presence in the world today. As we grow into a deeper understanding of the Eucharist we will find ourselves closer to the Lord and filled with the desire that through us he may be present to others also.

They continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. Whatever else we may say about the Christian life, it is a life of prayer. But that can mean many things because there are so many forms of prayer. We are all rightly given to prayer in the sense of asking for God’s blessing - for the peace of the nations, in situations of human tragedy, for the healing of the sick. But as we grow in prayer we may find it less necessary to bring the world to God because we are confident that he knows its needs better than we do ourselves.

A lifetime of prayer might bring us through times of deep penitence for our sins to an exhilarating sense of illumination, a profound awareness of God’s nature and purpose, and finally a spiritual union with God which is a foretaste of eternal life.

Let this Lent truly be a springtime of faith for you - a season of growth. May we be inspired by the scriptures, spurred to compassion for the needy, nourished by the Eucharist and sustained by prayer.
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