1 February 2016
The English word “Lent” means “Spring”, but this does not express the significance of the six and a half weeks before Easter. The origin of this season lies in the rigorous preparation of Christians for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus in Holy Week and at Easter. At first the season of Lent was observed by those who were preparing for their baptism, which would take place during the Easter Liturgy, and by those who were excluded from communion for some grievous sin and were to be reconciled before Easter, after a period of penance. It was not long before the Church realized that, by careful keeping of these days, all Christians might take to heart the call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel, and so grow in faith and in devotion to our Lord.
Lent is a season of preparation marked by penitence expressed in prayer and fasting, and it is this sense of preparation, and so of eager expectation with Good Friday and Easter Day always in view, that should characterize the season of Lent.
The popular idea of “giving things up” in Lent, however inadequately it is often understood, has its liturgical expression in the stark simplicity of Lenten worship. In part this is to express a spirit of penitence. But it is also to provide striking contrast with the joyful celebration of Easter. The “giving up” traditionally includes the omission of the ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ at the Eucharist, absence of flowers from the church, and the restrained use of the organ. These are only examples of how a distinctive atmosphere can be introduced into the worship of the season, an atmosphere of austerity, which is quite different from dreariness.
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, six and a half weeks before Easter, to give forty days of fasting, not including Sundays. As the day on which we celebrate the resurrection, Sunday cannot be kept as a fast. The liturgy of the day is characterized by silence, reflection, and penitence. The day derives its name from the solemn marking of the foreheads of worshippers with ash during the liturgy, a rite which goes back to at least the tenth century. The ceremony consists of a blessing or prayer over the ashes, traditionally made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, which expresses the ancient symbolism of ashes in both the Old and New Testament: “a sign of penitence and a symbol of our mortality”. This is followed by the imposition of the ashes on the forehead with the words:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.”
So we are reminded of our mortality and exhorted to be faithful.
The liturgy of Ash Wednesday, especially in this ancient custom with its spiritually powerful combination of word and acted symbol, is designed not only to mark a special day, but to start the Christian community off on a path that can be seen, even at this early stage, to be leading to Good Friday, and Easter celebrations. Its emphasis, therefore, is as much on the season it inaugurates as on the day it marks. I invite all the Christian community to begin Lent 2016 by receiving the Imposition of Ashes at Tavistock Parish Church on Ash Wednesday, 10th February, at 10.30 am or 7.30 pm.
With my love and prayers,
1 January 2016
Sarah and I have now celebrated our first Christmas in the Benefice and what a very wonderful (and busy!) time it has been. It has been a real pleasure and delight to share in the telling of the good news of Christmas with so many people from our parishes, the surrounding areas, and the wider community. I want to thank everyone for making the season so memorable. There have been many highlights from the wonderful Friends’ Christmas Tree Festival to the simplicity of saying prayers and singing Carols in our nursing homes. Our churches have been beautifully prepared, decorated and welcoming, and we have been privileged to have our worship, our crib and carol services, and many other services in our Church and across the community, led so thoughtfully by members of the ministry team and all those who assist in so many different ways. Thank you to Sean Sweeney and our accomplished Choir in Tavistock, our Organists from across the Benefice, and the musicians in all our churches for offering such thoughtful and inspiring music. Each of our churches has its own unique spiritual atmosphere and each has told the message of Christmas afresh in new and engaging ways. Thank you everyone.
Our thoughts now turn to the Epiphany. At Epiphany, we remember the visit of the three wise men, “The Magi”, to the stable where Christ was born in Bethlehem. I find it very interesting that in our sophisticated and technological age we are so interested in stars, horoscopes, and astrological signs.
As we prepare to celebrate the Epiphany we remember that the wise men read the stars and followed one star in particular as they travelled across deserts and mountains to find the new-born Christ-child. What attracts our attention is that they made their journey guided by a mysterious star which stopped in an unexpected place. There were no visible signs of royalty, and they worshipped in simplicity at Jesus’s, feet 6 offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Life for them was never the same afterwards and I think their journey has echoes in our hearts. Perhaps we too feel that we have a star to follow – a yearning deep in our being for meaning, truth and happiness – an individual path in life we are called to tread. When the Magi found the Christ-child, they would have seen just another baby born into the world, but, through their eyes of faith, they were able to see beneath the surface of appearance and recognize in the child God’s Son – God’s light which had come into the world. From that moment onwards they were no longer guided by a star but by the light of this child whom they recognized as the Saviour of the world. We too have been given eyes of faith to help us follow Christ in our lives – across those desert places of pain, failure and loneliness, and to recognize him as our Saviour. At Epiphany, we celebrate. We proclaim to the entire world that Christ came to everyone and that his influence in not limited to one culture or time. Like the Magi we are called to search and discover Christ in our own lives. What’s important is to be part of that journey, to be receptive and open to the signs of our times. Christ made a difference to the wise men by transforming their souls and calling them out of darkness into his own wonderful light. As we celebrate this Epiphany let us give thanks that Christ will make that same difference to each one of us as we too journey to him, and worship him, in faith. Details of our Epiphany service are contained within this magazine.
If you would like to explore the possibility of being Confirmed in 2016 please do get in touch with me over the coming weeks. Two courses are being held this year and the Confirmation service will be held on Sunday, 26th June. Thank you. With my love and prayers. I wish you a very happy new year. Chris Hardwick