(A Sermon preached on the Second Sunday in Lent: St. Peter’s Church, Lewes.)
May God alone be Praised. Amen.
The Gospel readings in Lent concern BIG temptations, BIG issues, BIG dramatic heroic and universal themes. The temptations in the wilderness, the realization that proclaiming the Good News will lead to death in Jerusalem, and so forth.
But for us Lent is mostly viewed as a personal activity, the small joys and sorrows in our spiritual discipline . Whatever the level of preparation for the Easter celebration, Lent is for us regular sinners about comparatively small matters and leads to personal introspection and turning around. And I have to say on inspection, my sins and temptations pale by comparison to those of much consequence. They are not particularly newsworthy, and only titilating to a small circle of folk. They are personal sins and small temptations. No one ever offered me the kingdoms of this world in exchange for my soul. The offerings were smaller, as befits a more or less ordinary soul. So the Lenten gospels are about big stuff, my Lent, not so much.
This is of course to be expected. It is after all a season for preparation for individuals in the modern world. In the modern world the individual is the basic unit of human society and culture, the molecular building block of civilization. Individual rights and duties are thus paramount as is individual responsibility for ones actions. So, in Lent we are encouraged to look to our personal souls health, to our individual sins and gifts, to God speaking to us individually.
Mostly this a good thing.
Still, I have to say, speaking as one individual, such Lenten exploration is sometimes boring. I mean, my sins are real, my hopes and calling is real, my sense of call to ministry and fulfillment of my baptismal vows is alive and well. It’s just that, well, the content is not much to look at. My sins and glories seem small, against the scrim of the great events leading to the Crucifixion.
Not to put a fine point on it, but Lent, it seems to me, is bigger than just me, it is not about me, it is about us.
I was struck by the power of the Great Litany that we sang in procession on the First Sunday in Lent. It is a wonderful liturgy written in a more collective age – the mid 16th century and based on even older more collective forms.
All the responses are in “we “form… “Have mercy upon us”, “Good Lord deliver us”, “We beseech thee to hear us good Lord.” Now of course everything is in the plural. It is after all a collective Litany. But the content is also collective. So we pray for release mostly from collective sins…false doctrine, heresy, schism, hardness of heart, contempt of thy Word and commandment.
Even those sins that seem personal – my favorite being “inordinate and sinful affections”….ah how I’ve loved them… get couched in collective terms, as in “the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil.” The world is of course collective… witness the worldly call to greed that is magnified on Television. The “flesh” is also collective, after all, sex is a social phenomena. Desire is an acquired taste. And the devil… ah, he wanders about in the crowd. Of course the individual is there, but more the collective “us” is there.
I’ve been reflecting on this, and on my experience in Haiti which is a much more collective sort of environment. Of course individualism is alive and well in Haiti, but there is a much greater sense of the community and the collective.
I got to thinking…. What if our observance of a good Lent was not so much about ME and more about US. What if our Lenten discipline were about getting “US” to be ready for a turning around, a new heart, a new creation, and less about “MY” turning around and “MY” repentance? What if, in Lent, we called the community, the nation to repentance, the people to a vocation and ministry worthy of the Risen Lord.?
Ho, ho, ho….now there’s an idea!
What if Lent was a season of preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection for the whole nation, with an emphasis on our collective preparation?
Given our pluralistic culture I am not suggesting that national repentance would mean a turning to Jesus, up front and personal. But rather repentance would mean a turning to God, present however that presence is given, to people everywhere. It might mean taking seriously that pious "In God we Trust" on the bills we use.
Preparation for the Resurrection would not be specifically for the Lord’s resurrection, but for the resurrection of hope, the resurrection of joy in God’s creation, of new life in God’s presence among us… repentance would be incarnational and collective.
Calling the nation to a good Lent would be calling the nation to the fullness of its vocation, and away from the “inordinate and sinful affections” that beset us as a people.
This might be a good year for such a Lent.
It is wonderfully ironic that we have this period of fasting and denial in preparation for new growth, for spring, for renewal, for resurrection. WE do this Lenten stuff for new life. So maybe in the winter of our considerable discontent we might as a people seek the new life and new growth that comes with resurrection.
Well, Good Luck. Still the thought is there.
At the end of the Great Litany, there is a liturgy called “The Supplication.” It is meant, it says in the fine print, to be used in times of war or national anxiety or disaster. Sometime (not now but sometime in the future, take a look at it.)
I would suggest that in our beloved land it is of some considerable value at this time, when national anxiety concerning sequestering of the budget, issues of systemic gun and other violence, and anxieties about the future, are all to be found. And too we have our fill of wars and disasters as well. We need this Supplication.
The supplication begins “O Lord, arise, help us.” And the response is “And deliver us for thy Name’s sake.”
It ends with this prayer,
“We humbly beseech thee, O father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and for the glory of your Name, turn from us all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Amen, Lord, Amen.
Abraham knew to put his trust and confidence in God’s mercy. And it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
The Psalmist knew that the Lord will not hide his face from his people but will be a shelter to them, and he was confident.
Paul knew to stand firm in the Lord’s transforming grace, and we are with Paul.
And Jesus, the author of our salvation, could turn and face Jerusalem and death with confidence, knowing that God would provide through him a new creation, a resurrection.
Surely we too can have the same confidence, in this Lent.
In the anxieties of the day, in our inordinate fears of the future, let us remember that there is indeed “a beauty in Jesus’ heart that transfigures you and me”, that transfigures us.
For that transfiguration to happen let us press on to our Jerusalem. Let us be prepared, patient, un-anxious and ready, for the Lord can and will do a new thing for his people. Of that I am confident.