My article for the March Crossways newsletter for St Paul’s Church Spennymoor and Whitworth Church.
Every year, as Lent approaches, I seem to be bombarded with books and resources offering me 40 things to read, and 40 different practical changes I can make to revolutionise my life. It’s all quite overwhelming!
I’m reminded of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10. Jesus had come to visit, and Martha was running around getting things ready. But her sister Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, ‘listening to what he said’.
Maybe we need a bit of ‘Mary time’ during Lent: time to leave everything else to one side, and simply to sit at Jesus’ feet.
In church history, Easter has often been the principal date for baptism. Adult candidates for baptism would undergo a period of instruction and preparation in the weeks leading up to Easter – a period that became known as Lent. So it is an excellent time to go back to basics.
On Sundays we’ve been looking at the first chapters of Genesis, which remind us of some of the basics of our faith.
(1) We are creatures
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7).
On Ash Wednesday we hear these words: ‘Remember that you are dust’. That isn’t something to boast about! Lent reminds us that we are utterly dependent on God. Everything we have comes to us as a gift from God.
(2) We are sinful
Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat? (Genesis 3:11).
Words from the Ash Wednesday service again: ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’. Lent is an excellent time to examine our lives. This is what lies behind many of the ‘40 days of…’ books and resources.
(3) We are mortal
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19).
These words are echoed in the Ash Wednesday service: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ Often we try to forget all of these things. We live as if we created ourselves, we like to imagine that there’s nothing much wrong with us, and we try not to think about death at all.
(4) We are rescued
God said to the snake,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15).
This verse is known as the ‘protevangelium’ – the ‘first gospel’. Lent is a time to take the bad news seriously, but we mustn’t forget the good news. We are preparing ourselves for the celebration of Good Friday and Easter, when the offspring of the woman came to take away our sins, to crush the power of death, and to open up the way for mere creatures to share in the life of God. What a Saviour!
During this Lent, let’s make sure these basics are in place, as a foundation for living the whole of our lives for God’s praise and glory.