First Sunday of Lent
Brothers and Sisters in Christ
I love Lent for many reasons. For one, I love the promise of the Springtime that begins to appear, that encourages us to go on, to look up, to see life literally sprouting all around us. The birds are really beginning to sing, have you noticed? But we also know that the difficulties of our journey are not over. That there is promise, but there remains struggle. And the best way to endure is through giving ourselves fully and freely to God’s guidance and direction. This is never an easy thing to do. We are headstrong, we like our own way, we are very good at convincing ourselves our own way is the absolute best way…until we find that it isn’t. Well, God’s knows of what we are made and is acquainted with all our ways. Our headstrong nature has many benefits, but when it causes ourselves and others pain God picks us up, God surrounds us, and those we may have hurt, with the Holy Spirit and helps us to be better, to live better. Lent is about a journey we are invited to walk with Jesus Christ, to learn from him and to realign ourselves with what God intends and hopes for us in great Love. That flourishing of life.
During morning prayers this week, we had the story of the woman at the well. It won’t surprise you to know that this is one of my favorite stories of encounters with Jesus. This woman was just going about her business. I always get the sense she’s not a happy woman, and not a young one – she has no one to get water for her, and lugging water home must have been difficult – so don’t be too hard on her when she misunderstands Jesus’s metaphor of living water…for too long, I think she was just trying to physically keep going every day. I’m always intrigued by these five husbands and the man she was with now who was not her husband. Was she one of those exploited women of the period, of which there were many, who after an initial divorce, was simply passed around – and became one of the most despised members of society? I think the evidence in the story says yes. It is when we have been brought very low that we often find Jesus sitting someplace we least expect him, offering to us new life and transformation.
Which brings me to another of my favorite pieces of scripture. The passage from Philippians that Corinne read during our Ash Wednesday service. One of the reasons I love it is that it is one of those moments when we see a very early hymn of the church embedded in Paul’s later letter. Some people think that this hymn was composed shortly after Jesus’s death – so if Paul’s letter comes from the 50s AD, then this could easily have come from the 30s AD. I love these little literary nuggets. But of course, beautiful as it is when we think of it as a hymn, its brilliance lies in what it says and what the earliest Christians experienced and testified to. I like it best in the NRSV translation. Its very interesting that most translations tend to use very similar language which suggests that the early Greek is fairly straightforward – again a sign of the Grace of the words and ideas of this hymn:
who, though he was in the form of
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God also highly exalted
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
So that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
And every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus, of one being with God our divine Creator, came into this world in the most abject and humble position, that of a slave. Why? And this is where I think it is really important to remember that being humble is not a punishment, its not about rejecting the fact that you are a much-loved creation of God. Its about finding a way to be with others that helps them live life and live it more abundantly in our own small way, in our own limited ability to follow Christ’s lead. Jesus, through humility, by choosing to be right there with us – was and is able to save each and every one of us and give us that living water. And we, inspired and in Grace, in our turn are enabled to follow God’s call to us, to hear God’s words. This is our Journey, and we know what the end will be, that moment when we sing out Alleluia with all the Angels and Saints and in God’s great love for us. Okay, we aren’t ‘supposed’ to say Alleluia during Lent to remind us that we are in preparation, that we are on the Way. But I don’t think, especially in this present difficult time, that God would mind a few Alleluias as we warm ourselves up, as we drink deeply from that well, as we confess that Jesus is Lord.
So, this week let us sit by our Lord who meets us where we are, and sits with us, and teaches us, and enables us, like the woman at the well, to proclaim the Gospel in thought and word and deed.
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas