Welcome to the month of March in the Claydons, Calvert, Calvert Green, Sandhill and Verney Junction, when the season of Spring officially begins and Daylight Savings take place towards the end of month. Some commentators also say that this is the month of wild and shifting weather as Mother Nature tries to shed her winter coat.
For many in the Christian community, March is the season of Lent – a time of reflection and preparation. Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter which began on Ash Wednesday, 22nd February. There, we marked our foreheads in ash from burnt palm crosses and olive oil to recognise that we came from dust and to dust we return. By observing 40 days of Lent, we copy Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.
Lent is marked by fasting from food and festivities. Some people fast, eat frugally or give up treats following the example of Jesus, who fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. People also give to charity, set aside time to study the Bible and meet with other Christians to reflect on Jesus’ life and prepare for the events of Holy Week and Easter in April.
Lent is a significant season for Christians – a time of solemnity and self-reflection after which we emerge with Joy in the Easter celebration. Solemnity and self-reflection become a time of observance and self-examination or introspection. It is a movement from one space to the other, a movement in being transformed and one interpretation of life to another. We rely on the sign posts of Bible readings, worship and prayers for this journey.
We are invited to take this Lent journey with an openness to experience sacrifice and withdrawal, as Jesus did, before emerging victoriously at the end to celebrate the Easter season. However, we need to start somewhere and the most important step is in the discipline of preparing a place for God during Lent. There must be a concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can be our Master and where we can respond freely to His guidance. We thus create boundaries that keep time and space open for God, a time and place to experience His gracious presence which instructs and guides.
One outcome of this time and space is, according to Field of Dreams, the ability to recognise the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. We stop and self-reflect as we encounter life’s unexpected demands. We acknowledge our current state in the context of Jesus Christ’s journey of sacrifice and withdrawal. Yet, we become strengthened with his embedded words of faith when appreciated in the moment. This approach builds a barricade against depression as well as helping our spiritual and mental health well-being.
The 68th chapter of Psalm cites: “Praise the Lord; praise God our Saviour! For each day he carries us in His loving arms”. Being thankful for the good things that come to us rather than just grumbling about the bad things that go on around us, helps us to keep our minds balanced and functioning in the way God designed them to. William Feather cites: “Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it”. The Lent journey of the faithful is a personal focussed time to keep our heart faithful and thankful without giving space to resentment and life’s disappointments. Jesus emerged victoriously after His 40 days of Lent and so can we.
I shared last year that making the transition from a healthy outlook to the deprivation of Jesus during Lent may be frictionless for some of us in the Claydons. But the transition from a solemn place to the present is not without friction when, among other things, loved ones are still lost, hospital appointments cancelled and long term illnesses remain. 2023 will be no different. But we take courage that, faced with tragedies and challenges, the Good Lord is at work turning every stumbling block into stepping stones. Stepping stones that ascend upwards (instead of downwards) elevating us into a transformative space of confidence, assurance and hope.
Our Parish Lent Bible Studies began on 28th February. We hope you can still join us. We explore the meaningful reflections of Christ in the Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel. Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Reverend Steven Croft’s “Come and See” study books are now available to complement the published online and emailed resources. Details of the study dates are found in the magazine’s centre pages and elsewhere as a notice. I very much look forward to seeing you.
Finally, it is with mixed feelings that I am leaving the Claydons for St Sebastian’s Church, Wokingham Without, Berkshire. Easter Sunday 9th April will sadly be my last time of leading Worship in the Parish. I will share my final reflections and farewell in the April edition of this Vicar’s Letter.
A prayer for March
Please grant me the wisdom
To keep my heart open to your word.
Do not let the anger of resentment
Distract from the meaning of Lent.
You emerged victoriously from
your sacrifice and withdrawal
and so can I with your help.
Give me the strength to stay faithful,
in order to emerge victoriously
in the Easter Season.