Address given at the Service for Ash Wednesday (with ashing) in St Mary's Nenagh on 18 Feb 2015
You’ll be delighted to know that I’m not going to give you a long sermon! But I do want to say a very few words about Lent.
The Church invites us, as we heard in the introduction to this service, ‘to observe a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy word’.
But to many in the wider society we inhabit, Lenten fasting and self-denial seem plain daft, perverse even. ‘Oh what a bore!’, I hear them say, ‘Why all this guilt-inducing, self-flagellating, call to gloomy repentance? Go away, and let us get on with our busy lives.’ There is no shortage of people to mock those who take Lent seriously.
My answer to them is this: Lent is not a burden – it’s not meant to be a burden, but a gift – it’s a holiday from the everyday!
Lent is an opportunity:
· To liberate myself for a bit from one of those little habits of luxury that can so easily become addictive bad habits. It is a chance to prove to myself that I am more than the sum of my desires. And after the fast, thank God, I shall relish what I denied myself even more.
· To spend a little more time with God, to feed my spiritual side, my soul. He is the great lover of souls, but often I feel too busy to respond to his love. There are so many ways to do so it is difficult to choose, from prayer, to reading scripture, or some other worthwhile book I wouldn’t otherwise find time to pick up, to joining with others in a Lenten course.
· To live more simply for a while and enjoy the present moment. Heaven knows, most of us could do with a break from the pressures to be busier and busier to acquire and consume more and more. Lent is also the time of lengthening days and burgeoning spring – let us enjoy what God has given us - for free.
· To be as generous as I can be from the surplus of good things God has given me. There is nothing so pleasurable and good for the soul than to help someone in need or donate to a good cause.
And whatever we choose to do or not do, we must not be gloomy about it! As Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21), ‘when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’
May we all have a joyful, holiday Lent!