Second Sunday before Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Lent begins in eleven days and many of you may be giving some thought to ‘what to give up for Lent’. Bishop Nick mentioned in a recent letter to the clergy that the past year sometimes feels like one long Lent. We have given up so much, our opportunities to join together in celebration have been much curtailed or stopped altogether. The many small pleasures like going out for a meal, meeting up with a friend for coffee, hugging our friends and family, sitting in church and singing out hymns have all been denied to us this past year. Right now, the idea of ‘giving up something for Lent’ seems a bit much.
Now, to be honest, I’ve never been keen about the ‘giving up’ practice. I do understand where it comes from, and how useful it can be to reflect on one’s behaviors and to single out things that interfere with our relationship with God either directly, or through our relationship with others. Though, frankly I’ve never seen how chocolate fits into that! And I have ‘given up’ things up for Lent. But even in the ‘giving up’ the focus should always be in giving up something that you feel is interfering in your relationship with God, not just some random pleasure. I suppose if eating too much chocolate is causing weight gain that makes one feel poorly, and less able to do things that one is called by God to do, then giving it up could be the right response as part of our love and worship of God. I like to think of this as the measure – is what you are giving up helping you to develop your relationship with God. This has always been the measure that we see applied in scripture. God isn’t really interested in sacrifices by rote, but in the sacrifice of the heart. And one of the most beautiful things about our relationship with God is that one of the most pleasing sacrifices to God – is that of Joy.
To sacrifice means to ‘give that which is sacred’, and what is more sacred than Joy. God is always about joy. God is the most profound joy and all that is created comes from this joy. Sometimes we are called to renounce things in our life that interfere with our experiencing of this joy, we call this renunciation our sacrifice. But we are even more often called to invite this joy into our lives more fully by doing those things that join our joy with God’s joy. We are constantly called to join our alleluias with those of the angels and all creation here on earth. In those most ideal moments we join our voices with angels and archangels and all of God’s creation. What Joy.
This Lent I believe we make our best sacrifice to God by finding deep in our hearts and in our souls those alleluias, those activities that help us enter into Gods great Joy. We have been living in very difficult times. But as we are constantly shown in the Bible, the correct response to grief, to loneliness, to struggle, frustration, fear, and all those negative emotions caused by the trials of this world, is to seek Joy in our everlasting Lord. The things of this world will fade away but what will never fade is God’s great Joy in us and for us, that is what Resurrection is all about, that is what God’s Kingdom coming into this world is all about.
This year we need a sacrifice of Joy to offer our Lord during this Lent. And so, if you are planning on offering a sacrifice to God during Lent, offer something that brings Joy into this world. I love the passage in 2 Samuel 6 when : ‘David danced before the Lord with all his might; David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet, and King David leaping and dancing before the Lord’. David was filled with the Joy of the Presence of the Lord. This year, I would encourage everyone to think about what gift of Joy they can give to God for Lent. Do you have a musical instrument you haven’t touched for years? Play it! Or put on that song that makes your heart dance, and dance! Sing you favorite hymns out loud around the house, and don’t worry if you are a bit out of tune – just belt them out, and that Joy will please the Lord. Make something with your hands, cook something for others, plant things that make you smile, spend time just sitting with and enjoying your garden. Take a walk and joy in the beauty of the hills, and vales, and little streams, and budding leaves. Read a good book that has given you joy in the past, reread your favorite Gospel or all of them, count the birds you see in your garden each day, phone friends and family more often. Any offering of joy, make that your Lenten sacrifice. God knows what we need right now, and that is Joy. I invite you to spend the days before Lent thinking about your Lenten sacrifice, and I strongly encourage you to make this sacrifice a sacrifice of Joy.
With Joy filled Blessings,
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas