Having reflected on the season of Epiphany in my last posting, we now come to the season of Lent. Jesus’s sojourn in the wilderness immediately follows his baptism. The celebration of Christ’s baptism at the hands of John, when the heavens were opened and a voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son, is an important part of the ‘manifestation’ of Epiphany and so, in one sense, Epiphany looks forward to Lent. And so as we enter Lent we take with us all that has been revealed to us about Christ during Epiphany; that Christ is God's own Son; that He is revealed as a Saviour to the Gentiles and the whole world and that He has come to give us abundance of life.
Lent is a forty-day period of self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study and preparation for Easter as we remember the forty days that our Lord spent in the wilderness, being tested by Satan. For those of you wishing to join a study group, we will be joining our brothers and sisters from the Church of the Resurrection every Thursday evening at 7pm at St Cross Church in a six-part course for parishes and Lent groups based on Pope Francis’ recent reflections on mission and evangelism, published as Evangelii Gaudium (‘The Joy of the Gospel’).
Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence; from the middle ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked in ash with the sign of the cross. This ash is traditionally made from the burnt palm crosses from the previous year. And so the beginning of Lent is known as Ash Wednesday. We will celebrate Ash Wednesday with an evening Holy Communion Service at 7.30pm at St Cross Church which will include an opportunity to receive ashes. All are welcome to this service – whether regular members of St Cross or visitors, and all are welcome to come and worship and receive Holy Communion regardless of the denomination a person is a member of.
Along with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to get ready for Easter, we also fast from saying or singing the word as well as singing the Gloria. As one perceptive music minister put it: The church doesn’t sing these great words during Lent for the same reason the church don’t sing Jesus Christ Is Risen Today—until we get there liturgically. In addition to this, the church will be kept bare of flowers and decoration.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare or Refreshment Sunday) is traditionally allowed as a day of relief from the rigour of Lent. At St Cross we will observe Mothering Sunday on this Sunday (11th March) which will be a family service in which the children will take an active role in leading parts of the service.
Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens; the readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death and the reading of the Passion Narrative will take place on the Fifth Sunday (Passion Sunday).