I don’t have a particularly good relationship with Lent – maybe I don’t have great will-power, which I don’t, or possibly it feels too much like a test, and I’m not convinced God wants to set us tests. Sin seems to loom large, and it can feel somehow, well, ungracious.
But for centuries it has been part of the Christian experience, a season which marks out the Christian year, and in its own way tells something of the Christian story. It is, after all, something we do together so it’s not really about what I give up or what spiritual heights I aspire to: it is what we’re doing together.
What we’re doing together is saying that actually we don’t have all the answers. Just as Jesus had his forty days in the wilderness, we all have wilderness experiences inside – and that’s alright. The Christian faith isn’t just about being on cloud nine, but amid those bleak times, wow, don’t the chinks of glory make a big difference.
Bishop Rowan Williams once described sin as forgetfulness of God’s goodness. Lent is that time, being mindful of our sins, when we can remember how good God is – a penitential season, yes, which reminds us of the generosity of God’s love.
Some of you will have heard of St Benedict, who founded the Benedictine order, based on a rule he put together in the sixth century. It orders daily life, in this case in the monastery, and includes what you can and cannot do. What impresses me about it is that for almost every rule he seems to make an exception. The rule is not there to catch out the weak or the fragile – no, it is there to hold them and support them in their life together.
Maybe that is the sense of this season of Lent. It is not there to test our discipleship or endurance, but, as we keep this penitential season together, to remind us of God’s goodness, another way of showing us God’s love, how much he loves us.
Archdeacon of Worcester