Second Sunday of Lent
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
Can it be, is spring really here? The past few days have been warmer (except for the frost in the morning), the spring flowers are appearing everywhere. I’m particularly fond of my little crocuses in my rock garden that are really coming up in profusion these days. And the sunshine…this morning looking out the window an the bright clear day…last night looking out at the stars, it does feel like spring has come. I know that many of you will look at me sagely, shake your head and remind me that snow can come in March and April, and share memories of even later spells of bad weather, but I won’t be paying any attention to you today because it really is so beautiful to wake up to a bright morning.
And in the morning on a lazy Saturday I like to sit and read in bed with a cup of coffee. This morning I’ve been reading a biography of Charles Raven. Likely few of you know of him, but he was an energetic and faith filled worker in the Church in the early twentieth century and counted among his close friends Evelyn Underhill, Lucy Gardner, and William Temple. Raven worked tirelessly in the Liverpool area on projects aimed at improving conditions for working people. But that isn’t my topic today. In fact, as is the way with biographies, one is always on a journey and my reading today is of his youth, and of his coming to Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I find ‘coming to faith’ stories very inspiring. Perhaps that is because I never ‘came to faith’. My first faith experience is my early memory of a modest brick Episcopal church in the little town of Puyallup in Washington State where I was born. I remember being in a little room coloring something, and then being taken by the hand to my mother in the pews at Communion. It all seemed very mysterious to me, and really I just wanted to be back with my mother, I must have been about three at the time. The next memory I have is a lovely homey one of my mom sitting by my bed and me saying my prayers, which I could do completely from memory. It was a very simple nighttime prayer, but I was only four!
And always, I have felt the presence of God in my life. Like everyone, sometime my relationship has been very close and other times a bit distant, though I’ve never really experienced a severe crisis of faith. And so, the stories of people coming to faith fascinate me, and I so admire them. It also makes me think of the way God works in our lives, and the way in which we grow into a relationship with God. These are good things to reflect on in Lent. So many of the stories in Scripture are also of people learning about our Lord, walking with him, questioning and working out by themselves and in community who God is…and who God is to them. Jesus encourages this kind of reflection many times, and most particularly when he asks ‘Who do you say that I am’. This question wasn’t a quiz, it wasn’t a test to see who was in, and who was out. Jesus was showing love and care for his disciples by encouraging them to take God into themselves, to reflect on what the relationship is between the human and the divine. And I think this is a good thing for us to think about on a fine spring day, because the answer tells us where we are in our journey with Christ, and where we have to go next.
And it is a beautiful and respectful question. God never imposes divine will on anyone, we are the ones who are asked, invited to take up our cross, to follow the Way. And that is an invitation with no expiration date, that is continually offered to us and to all.
‘Who do you say that I am?’ What a wonderful question to be asked and to spend a lifetime answering.
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas