What are we doing differently this Lent?

Mary Copping, 25 February 2018

Romans 4: 13–25; Mark 8: 31–38

What are we doing differently this Lent? Many people use this time of Lent to give up something: give up food to lose weight, give up wine for the sake of their liver – all good, healthy things. But for Christians, Lent is much more than this. It is about getting ready, about prayer, about reading God’s word, about thinking of doing things differently. It is a time to focus on our relationship with God – to make more room to be with him, and to get to know him better, and to know more of his love.

In our gospel reading the disciples are hearing some shocking things from Jesus about the way of the cross, about him having to suffer and die. They had had such hopes at the beginning that he had come to free them from the oppression of the Romans, and they may still have been holding on to that hope. There are two other instances in the gospel where Jesus warned them of what was to come, because they needed to hear and accept, as far as they could, what was ahead. In this instance, Peter took Jesus to one side and said this could not be. As always, Peter was actually saying the thing that perhaps the other disciples were just thinking. Peter was focusing on human things rather than the divine, and of course he did not understand. But Jesus was very firm with him – he knew that he would need the strong support of his disciples through this time.

Jesus then went on to talk about the need for his followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This is a familiar theme in Jesus’ discussions with his disciples and followers. They would have their own ideas of what this might mean. The disciples had given up a huge amount already – family, stability, good name and reputation, job – to follow Jesus. I wonder if they were thinking, ‘How much more do you want us to give up, how much more do you want of us?’ And yet, much more would be asked of them as they followed Jesus to the cross and beyond.

What are we doing differently this Lent? What are we denying ourselves for God? If we are to give things up, our purpose should be something that would give us time for God – to receive his love. The wording on the poster at the bottom of the drive – ‘What if … truth is a relationship not an idea?’ – is something to make us think, and a reference to the fact that God wants a relationship with us. He wants us to get to know him and know his love. In our busy life, this often seems a low priority, something we might have time to do or we might not – we’ll have to see how the day goes. Jesus speaks about losing one’s life, which is about losing one’s whole way of thinking about the world so as to think God’s way. By spending time with him in prayer we can learn more about his way.

Jesus speaks about losing one’s life, which is about losing one’s whole way of thinking about the world so as to think God’s way.

In our gospels we have many, many references to Jesus in prayer. We’re told that at his baptism, as the dove descended on him, Jesus was praying. Before he headed to Galilee, where he performed many miracles and preached to thousands, we’re told that in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Before he chose his 12 disciples we’re told that he prayed all night. And in Luke’s description of the events we’ve just heard from Mark in our gospel reading, he tells us that Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him. This led directly on to our passage, speaking of the way of the cross, of self-denial, of giving ourselves up. If Jesus, the Son of God, spent much time in prayer with his heavenly Father to give him strength, direction and guidance, perhaps for reassurance and comfort, how much more so should we!

What are we doing differently this Lent? This Lent I wonder if we can think about how we can spend more time with God. Perhaps not watching so much television, perhaps not chatting so much on the phone or perhaps coming off Facebook for a while? Whatever it is, God, who loves us so much, is wanting us to be in relationship with him, to know his love for ourselves – not just as head knowledge but as heart knowledge. To spend that time in quietness, perhaps to go for a walk and ponder God’s beauty and goodness, to make that space for him.

It was after the disciples had seen Jesus praying that they asked him to teach them how to pray, which is when he gave them (and us) the Lord’s Prayer. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to hear Jesus in prayer talking to his Father – such an intimate and beautiful experience? That’s how God our Father wants us to be, to take time to talk with him and to listen to him, to deny ourselves other luxuries or things we think we need, or time we think we need in our busyness. Time to hear him, rest in his presence, be with him. And when we do give him that time, what peace and love we can know!

These times of prayer are so fruitful: to be guided by him (as Jesus praying before choosing his disciples), to be prepared for all God has for us to do (as Jesus’ prayers in the wilderness when he struggled with the temptations he faced – but all necessary preparation for his future ministry), to be given strength for the time ahead (as when he prayed tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane), and the love, comfort and strength he would have received as he spent many other times with his heavenly Father.

What are we doing differently this Lent? We are Christians, followers of Christ, people loved by God, his ambassadors who take his love to all the places we go. We see that Peter, when rebuking Jesus about what he was saying, was focusing on human things not on the divine. As we spend time with God – often not easy, often self-denying, but always fruitful – then we become more in tune with the way God wants us to think and speak and act, more in tune with his ways for this world, more in tune with the divine.

We live in a dark and troubled world where tragedies happen daily, and we see them because of the immediacy of the internet, and we feel sorrow for God’s world and the people in it. Ours – as Christians who receive so much from God here in this church, at the Eucharist, as we spend time in prayer – is to pass this on to others. I heard someone say that as she prayed to God each morning she asked, ‘Please, God, bless me, that I may be a blessing to others’. We want to be a blessing, and we need to take the light and love of Christ out to others in this dark world. As we spend time with God in prayer, he fills us with his light, the light that shines out to others. From Matthew 5: 16, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven’.

What are we doing differently this Lent?