First Sunday of Lent - this week's readings and reflections by Father Michael
Sunday 21st February 2021
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; 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. Amen
It is said that the author John Ruskin once sat with a friend in the dusk of an evening and watched a lamplighter, torch in hand, lighting the streetlamps on a distant hill. Very soon the man's form was no longer distinguishable in the distance, but everywhere he went, he left a light burning brightly. 'There,' said Ruskin, 'is what I mean by a true Christian. You can trace his course by the light he leaves burning.'
So, if we were to reflect a little further on this metaphor by Ruskin, we might say that the light that he was speaking of is the love we have for God and for others and that the true Christian is someone who during his lifetime leaves a trail of light and of love. In John 13 Jesus says to his disciples, 'By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' And it is love that defines us as followers of Jesus, love that defines us as Christians. Love that burns brightly in the darkness of the world, a love that is manifest in our thoughts, our words, our actions and in the way we live our lives. Above all, ours should be a love that shows. Today, on the first Sunday of Lent, I would like to look at how the love we show forth in our lives helps us to deal with temptation.
So how do we fight temptation in this season of Lent? I would suggest to you that we fight temptation not merely by giving up things, resisting things, learning to say 'no', commendable though these things may be. True strength comes from something much more positive than that. True strength and resistance to temptation occurs when the love we have for others and for God is strong and true, when we are committed because of this love, when we see with the eyes of this love and when we cannot help but show forth this love in the way we live, the things we say, the way we interact with others.
I began with a story about a lamplighter and I would like to end with a few thoughts about them. Historically, lamplighters were people who lit the gas lamps with a long pole and had often to work in the cold and the dark. Sometimes they would serve as watchmen. And there is a long history of the lamplighter as being a symbolic figure in literature, bringing light to those who have none, and beauty and joy to a world sadly in need of these.
There is a story told about the young Robert Louis Stevenson. One evening he was looking out of the window down an Edinburgh street when a lamplighter came by. The little boy became extremely excited. 'Look,' he cried, 'there's a man out there punching holes in the darkness.'
As Christians, we too often work in the cold and the dark. We too, this Lent, need to be on the watch against temptation. And we too need to punch holes in the darkness with our love, a love that shows, a love that charts our course through the darkness of this world.
MY THOUGHT FOR LENT
Fasting, in general, is a form of self-denial and most often refers to abstention from food. In a spiritual fast, such as during Lent, the purpose is to show restraint and self-control. It is a spiritual discipline intended to allow each person to focus more closely on their relationship with God without the distractions of worldly desires.
Now for those who traditionally give up something for Lent such as alcohol or chocolate etc., it is very commendable. However, this last twelve months has been extraordinarily difficult and if a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate has helped you during these tough times, then I want to suggest that this year, because of the pandemic, you do not deny yourselves these little treats.
The Archbishop of Wales this year in his Lenten address said that rather than asking family and friends what they are 'giving up' for Lent the question should be what are they 'taking up' for Lent?
So instead of fasting, here are five things that you can do during Lent, which are also spiritual disciplines but not in sense of abstaining. They are connecting with other people, as far as the restrictions allow, physical activity as much as you are able, learn some new skills, give to others of your time and/or resources and pay attention to the present moment.
Paying attention to the present moment is the foundation of meditative prayer. It is a stillness which puts aside the busyness of our lives to listen to what God is saying to us and to see what He is doing in our lives and in our world. We should practice taking notice and perhaps think of five things for which we should be thankful and to focus on these in our meditation and prayers.