Two-and-a-half weeks till Lent
It is not too early to start planning how one is going to keep this Lent. Usually the first question that comes to mind is what one will give up, or what extra thing one might take up. That has to be done sometime, but might I suggest that it is not the first thing to consider? The Prayer Book’s “Penitential Service for use on Ash Wednesday and at other times” speaks about the purpose of Lent and suggests how it is to be observed. The Exhortation to be said by the priest ends with the words:
"I invite you, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination, and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditating upon God’s holy Word." [p. 612]
The BAS improves on this by adding almsgiving after fasting.
We have then seven things to take into account when planning how to keep Lent. Under the first heading, self-examination, comes a discipline best taken up before Lent begins. This is not an examination of conscience as much as it is an examination of practice. The Catechism in the Prayer Book concludes with this recommendation [p. 555]
“Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church …”
It them goes on to suggest several things to consider in framing such a rule.
We could do far worse in preparing to keep a holy Lent than to consider or reconsider our Rule of Life, and make of Lent a time to put it into practice with particular care and intention.
There will be more to say on keeping a holy Lent next week.
The First Reading: Jeremiah 1.4-10
Oddly enough, Jeremiah’s sense of unworthiness, which we find expressed by other prophets [see Ex 4.10-15, Isa 3.4, 1 Kgs 3.7], is a clear sign of the reality of the call. Those who are really called of God are such as have been brought to a deep acquaintance with themselves, feel their own ignorance, and know their own weakness. They know also the awful responsibility that attaches to the work; and nothing but the authority of God can induce them to undertake it. It is those whom God never called who hasten to declare themselves prophets or take up the work of ministry for worldly honour and emolument: the others hear the call with fear and trembling, and can go only in the strength of Jehovah. Charles Wesley wrote: "How ready is the man to go, Whom God hath never sent! How timorous, diffident, and slow, God's chosen instrument!"
In God’s call to Jeremiah to be ‘a prophet to the nations’ we have a foreshadowing of the “universalizing” of Isaiah’s message in Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth (see NJBC 43:62), and when the Lord says “Do not fear them” a hint of the rejected prophet theme in today’s Gospel reading (see also Lk 6.22-23; 11.49-51; 13.34-35; Acts 7.35, 51-52)..
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13.1-13
It is a great pity that the word ‘charity’ has in the minds of most people come to be limited to alms-giving and works for the public benefit, for all we have is that battered old word ‘love’ and an endless struggle to teach people to distinguish between love as an emotion and the love we are commanded to have for God, our neighbours and our enemies. This is particularly annoying: it isn’t as though people are so stupid that they can’t learn that a words can often have several meanings. But there you are, and if you will forgive me, I am going to carry on using ‘charity’..
It is perhaps unfortunate that the lectionary divides the readings for last Sunday and this as it does. The last passage ended at 12:31a, “But strive for the greater gifts”, and the rest of the verse, which is the introduction to this reading is omitted. So as we hear the passage read, it is helpful to remember the end of Chapter 12: “And I will show you a still more wonderful way”. This reminds us that in this passage St Paul is showing the excellence of charity.
This is one of the places where a good commentary is your best friend, as we simply do not have the space to give the attention, verse by verse, that this passage requires. IN addition to the usual places I recommend, there is also available a series of homilies on the letters to the Corinthians by St John Chrysostom. They may be found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2201.htm.
We should note the suggestion in the NJBC that parallels in Acts (14.3 and 20.24, 332 suggest that the meaning is ‘words of salvation’. rather than ‘gracious words’. It is not so much that he spoke well, but that his words conveyed grace, that is, God’s freely given gift of love. Deut 8.3 suggests that the expression, ‘proceeded out of his mouth’ means that the “words” are the word of God.
The reaction of the townsfolk of Nazareth grows. At first they seem reluctant to accept Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promises simply because they know him, and cannot believe that the words of salvation can come from him. But when he reacts angrily, and reminds them of God’s work among foreigners to the neglect of the chosen people in the time of Elijah and Elisha, they take real offense and are enraged.
I am sorry to say that I have run out of time for preparing these notes.