Friday, 22 February 2013

Lamb of God - Sacrifice & Hope, a Journey through Lent, Part I

LAMB OF GOD SACRIFICE & HOPE A JOURNEY THROUGH LENT Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us; Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon up; Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace. (from the service of Holy Communion, in every tradition) “A face as long of Lent” people used to say, referring to the dismal way in which Christianity has used the period of preparation for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day, as a time of self-reproach, privation, and voluntary hardship – “a Penitential Season”. This takes us very far away from the use of these weeks in the very early church, which was not as a time to think about how awful we are, but a time of learning, of discarding some of our baggage – including the baggage of sin – and seeking to become closer to God. Most of all, it was a time for the whole congregation to support and encourage those who were to be baptised, confirmed, and received to Holy Communion for the first time, at Easter. For the old regulars, and the newcomers, that is a joyful and glorious thing, and we must not lose sight of it during this time. But it is equally true that the faith revealed to us in the story of Jesus in the Gospels makes us look at some hard things – Jesus’s teachings challenge us to look at ourselves, at our dealings with one another, and with God, in a spirit of humility, forgiveness, and respect. The story of the last days of Jesus’s earthly ministry is one of a journey to the cross, a journey to sacrifice, but made in hope. We know how the story ends on Easter Day, and that gives us hope too. But sacrifice and hope come in our lives in cycles and seasons; times of hardship to times of plenty; times of loss to times of joy. And back again. Always we have before us the Incarnate God, Jesus, carrying his Cross, determined not to give way to the forces of evil and despair, determined that the love of God will rise again, as we shall rise again, from our hard times, and on the Last Day. That is our Lenten hope. In what follows, there are offerings of an excerpt from the Gospel reading of the day, according to the Lectionary of the Church of England, with a reference to the full reading if you want to follow it up. Then there are prayers from various sources, and of various kinds, a reflection, and a concluding prayer. Each day’s offering ends with “Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace”. Rather than repeat them, the words are offered here: “Kyrie” – the name comes the Greek word for “Lord”, the beginning of the prayer, which is one of the first, and most ancient the Churches have been using for centuries, which asks us to look with love and compassion on us: Lord have mercy Christ have mercy Lord have mercy “The Lord’s Prayer” – so-called because when Jesus’s disciples asked him how to pray, this was his answer. You can find it in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, in slightly different forms, but the substance is the same: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, at is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead not not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, For ever and ever, Amen. “The Grace” – a form of words taken from St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (13:13), which has been used in public and private prayer ever since, and is a sort of blessing for those praying together, and for those for whom they have prayed: The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore, amen. Shrove Tuesday, 12th February In jollier cultures than our own, today is known as Mardi Gras, or Terca-Feira Gorda – “Fat Tuesday”. This was because, as Lent was a time of fasting, and long faces, we should make merry and eat up everything nice that might be forbidden to us during Lent (and go off before Easter!). Hence our own “Pancake Day”, which admittedly sounds a little less fun, although it can be a great laugh. But the English had to do things differently. “To shrive” means to seek confession and absolution, and to “be shriven” was to march boldly forward with sins absolved. So, Lent was not a time to dwell on sin – that had been dealt with – it was a time to come closer to God, assured of his forgiveness, and seeking a deeper understanding of God, of ourselves, and of our neighbours, not repenting all the things we’ve done wrong, but girding ourselves for all the things we might yet do right, “all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in” (Book of Common Prayer, thanksgiving after Communion). ASH WEDNESDAY, 13th February Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may receive from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Gospel: John 8:1-11, The Woman Caught in Adultery ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ Reflection This story was so typical of Jesus that no one knew where to put it, but it wasn’t to be lost, and it landed in John’s Gospel, although it didn’t belong there. Jesus challenges us with direct questions – not to the woman, but to the crowd of would-be stoners. How swift we are to condemn others, how slow to realise our own vices! And notice, we are told that it is the eldest who slope off first, full of years and sin. But let us take heart – Jesus’s message is for them to – “go your way, and from now on do not sin again”. Father, teach me not to condemn, not for fear of the condemnation of others, but of judgement of myself. Give me grace to rise from the dust, forgiven, and forgiving, and to embody in my own person the Good News of your love. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Thursday, 14th February, St Valentine Gospel: Luke 9:22-25 ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?’ Reflection Taking up a cross daily sounds a heavy burden, when Jesus said “for my yoke is easy, and by burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). As Christian people we have to think about what our burdens are, and why we are carrying them. But it is good also to think about the rewards we receive from hard work – not least in the love of family and friends. We bear those we love, sometimes, like crosses. We’d never say so to them, and in return they give us more than we could measure. Jesus, you took upon yourself a heavy burden for others; grant us grace to do the same, and when others do likewise for us, to thank them, and you, for your love. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Friday, 15th February Gospel: Matthew 9:14-15 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Reflection: We are not used to the idea of Christianity telling us to make the best of the good times, but there is a minor theme in the Gospels that does precisely this. Jesus spent time alone, fasting, and in private prayer, but he also went to dinners, and parties and weddings. Yes, there are dark times, but we must not let them extinguish the good, because it is in our enjoyment of the good things of life together, that we replenish the well of our souls with joy, the better to be able to cope when times are hard. Father, give us grateful hearts for all the good things of this life, for the love of family and friends, for cheerful diversions of our leisure times, for the beauty and wonder of the glorious world you have made; and may we be agents of your joy, for all those who have lost sight of it. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Saturday, 16th February Gospel: Luke 5:27-32 Jesus answered, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ Reflection: Often the church can look like an asylum for insiders, rather than a refuge for those in need, and all too often those of us who become insiders can make it hard for others to come in. We know the rules, the manners, the habits, the times and seasons, and the stranger can feel most unwelcome. But it does not need to be that way. We have all known what it is to be the welcomed stranger, and to welcome strangers ourselves, and Jesus teaches us that to welcome the stranger or the outcast, is to welcome him, and when we do, at church, in our homes, in our daily lives, the Kingdom of Heaven has come very near. God of healing and pardon, teach us not to count ourselves amongst the righteous, whose names are known to you alone, but to approach you with friends and strangers alike, in penitence and faith, seeking you, the physician of our souls. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace

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