Saturday, March 5, 2011

Devotional Material

Prepared for the Anglican Church of St Columba and All Hallows, East York, Toronto
By the Revd Dr William Craig, Priest-in-Charge

The following notes are a complete revision and reorganization of Lenten Notes that have been previously published.

Usually the first question that comes to mind in Lent is what you are giving up, or perhaps, what extra thing one might take up. This is important, but it is not the first question to ask yourself in Lent. The Prayer Book’s “Penitential Service for use on Ash Wednesday and at other times” tells us about the purpose of Lent and suggests how it is to be observed. The Exhortation to be said by the priest ends by listing the seven acts of a Holy Lent:
"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 an eighth, 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 then suggests several things you should consider in framing such a rule for yourself. Slightly adapted, these are:
The regularity of your attendance at public worship and especially at the holy Communion.
Your practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline.
Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into your everyday life.
The boldness of your spoken witness to his faith in Christ.
Your personal service to the Church and the community.
The offering of money according to your means for the support of the work of the Church at home and overseas.
So the first question to ask yourself in Lent is whether you are living up to the Rule of Life, and the first task of Lent is to put the Rule into practice with particular care and intention.
But what if you have never been taught about the Rule of Life until now, or even read page 555 of the Prayer Book? Then the first task I preparing for Lent is to examine your life and begin to frame a Rule for yourself. So we have come to the first action of Lent, SELF-EXAMINATION, to which is naturally joined
These disciplines, along with Prayer cannot be treated as they should in such notes as these. But they are disciplines which we should be teaching and considering all through the year.
There are two starting points to repentance: the first is to measure your life against a particular standard. Best is to use the Ten Commandments as they are set out in the Prayer Book on pages 546-549; other devotional books give more detailed questions for self-examination. The second is to pray for God’s grace to see yourself honestly, without excuses.
Then it is simple: simply tell God what you have done wrong, and say you are sorry and believe that in Christ Jesus he forgives you. Resolve not to do it again, and tell him that. If you have done wrong to another person, do what you can to put it right, praying for strength if it is difficult. By the way, I said this is simple, not that it is easy, but if it is hard, pray for help and it will come.
If after you have done this you still feel guilty or have some other difficulty, then see a priest.
Above all, remember the Comfortable Words:
COME unto me all that labour and are heavy laden, and 1 will refresh you. St Matthew 11. 28.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life. St John 3. 16.
Hear also what Saint Paul saith. This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1. 15.
Hear also what Saint John saith. If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. 1 St John 2. 1, 2
Remember, above all, that God loves you and wants to forgive you.

If you think you know nothing about PRAYER you should make two resolutions in Lent. The first is to say the Lord’s Prayer at least on going to bed every night and on rising every morning. The second is to talk to your priest about it soon as possible. Beyond that, the topic is too vast to enter into here.
This is, however, a good place to consider BIBLE-READING and other forms of Study in Lent. There are many resources available, we won’t add anything here, except perhaps to suggest that personal Lenten study could well begin with the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 of St Matthew). As well, of course, there are many series of studies available in Churches in Lent.
A monastic discipline for Lent is to take a book from the library and read it through, without skipping.
The truth is that good advice on your personal Lenten reading can only come from someone who knows you.

Next in considering the actions of a Holy Lent comes Fasting. Since the Prayer Book terms the forty weekdays of Lent ‘days of Abstinence’, and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as ‘Major Fast Days’, we need to consider what these terms mean as well as a third, self-denial, which involves every sort of “giving-something-up-for-Lent”.
Here is the first problem of Lent. Our church tells us that there are days of abstinence and days of fasting, but gives us no official definition of these terms; it seems to assume we know what they mean. Indeed, there are traditional definitions (which are codified in the rules of the Roman Church, but about which we have no law): to fast is to take no food for a certain time, while to abstain is to do without a particular kind of food, usually meat. Perhaps a snapshot from a moment in Anglican history can shed some light here.
At the Savoy Conference on the Prayer Book in 1661 the Presbyterian theologians objected that “Christ’s fasting forty days and nights” was “no more imitable, nor intended for the imitation of a Christian, than any other of his miraculous works were, or than Moses his forty Days fast was for the Jews.” To this the Bishops replied,
“The fasting forty days may be in imitation of our Saviour, for all that is here said to the contrary; for though we cannot arrive to his perfection, abstaining wholly from meat [i.e., food] so long, yet we may fast forty days together, either Cornelius his fast, till three of the Clock afternoon, or St Peter’s fast till noon, or at least Daniel’s fast, abstaining from Meats and Drinks of delight, and thus far imitate our Lord.”
So our tradition offers us three possible rules of fasting. We might also consider the old rule of the Roman Church that “fasting essentially consists in eating but one full meal in twenty-four hours and that about midday.” It also involves abstinence from meat in the same period. The rule was later relaxed to allow “a collation, usually taken in the evening.” It is obvious that to go into details of such rules would be to little purpose here. It is quite reasonable to suggest that on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday one abstain from eating at least until one has taken part the solemn rites of the day, but to stick to one meal, and that of the simplest quality.
The purpose of fasting is a more important consideration. Bishop Jeremy Taylor wrote in The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, that fasting serves us in three ways: (i.) it serves prayer; (2.) it serves the mortification of bodily lusts; (3.) it serves repentance.
Of these we might need to clarify the second a little. The meaning of “lusts” has become somewhat narrow in recent times, so that it no longer means just any desires or appetites, but only the “sinful lusts”. The mortification of lusts really means bringing our appetites under control, so that they do not control us. Experience shows that “mortification” is not too strong a word for this. To give up something which has become a habit can be like dying. By fasting we learn to do without things which are good but not necessary, which we like but don’t really need. We will return to that point when we think about Self-denial.
Young children (traditionally under seven) and persons over 60 are not bound to fast in the Roman Church, but “Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.” It is perhaps needless to point out that one following a diet for medical reasons should not change it in Lent. Likewise, a person who is supposed to take medication with food may have to take a little something in the morning before Church on the two fast days.
As to abstinence, the only serious question is what a Vegetarian should do. I can give no advice here, because I do not know if there is anything in the diet of such a one that can be considered the equivalent of meat. If anyone has wiser advice, I would be grateful to hear it.
The lack of a hard and fast rule about fasting should not be taken as an excuse to do nothing at all. But all too often that is just the way Anglicans take things!

“Every person who has read his prayer book with any degree of attention, knows that this season of Lent is appointed by the Church for the especial exercise of repentance; that she intends us to refrain for a while even from the innocent pleasures of the world, that our time and thoughts may be the freer to consider our past lives, to bewail and confess our sins, and so prepare ourselves, with thankful hearts, to acknowledge the infinite mercies of God in Christ Jesus on the great days of his Death and Resurrection.” ~ John Keble, Sermon for Ash Wednesday of Not Receiving the Grace of God in Vain.
So what should I give up for Lent? Keble leads us to the answer: it should be one of “innocent pleasures of the world.” As a wise colleague once said to me, “You give up for Lent something that you can quite rightly take up again at Easter”. It should be something good and lawful that you can do without, though perhaps not easily. The fact that the thing given up is not sinful or wrong is precisely why giving it up is a discipline. For the root is of that word is ‘to learn’; it is what a disciple does. A person who chooses to give up something perfectly innocent for a time learns self-control. Self-denial is protection against temptation when it comes, less dependent on pleasure. And since the thing given up is not itself wrong, failure in the discipline is not catastrophic. It merely shows where one needs to pray more and seek strength. Beyond that I have no suggestions to make as to what any person might give up, except to say that ‘giving something up’ is in addition to the rule of abstinence from meat in Lent.. There are some helpful ideas in two articles which may be found on line at Project Canterbury. They are:
“Some thoughts about Lent for Busy People” By E.F. Pemberton (London: Mowbray, no date):
“The Lenten Fast” by the Rev. Charles T. Stout (Milwaukee: Morehouse, no date)

Many people say that rather than giving something up for Lent they will take something on, by which (I hope) they mean some act of charity or kindness, some new discipline. To take on some good deed in Lent is good, but it is to be done not instead of giving something up. For self-denial is something we are commanded to do by our Lord Jesus, who said, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. No good deed taken on or whatever important ecological cause aided in Lent takes away the imperative to deny oneself . To follow Christ must mean learning self-denial as the basic attitude of life; the little things we give up in Lent are baby steps in this training, and like babies we must take them before we can learn to walk. [If this were set out as a flowchart there would be an arrow here leading me back to self-examination and repentance, but that is another story.]
That said, the traditional disciplines of Lent are full of things to take on; more prayer, more study, more acts of kindness to others. The modern idea of the Carbon Fast is to be commended, though this is not something that replaces the fast from food.

Above all, we are to take on extra almsgiving in Lent, preferably with the money we don’t spend on food or self-indulgence.
Almsgiving is a Christian duty all year round, of course: it is clear from the Gospels that there are no exceptions to the Lord’s commandments (see, for example, Mt 5.42; Lk 6.29-30). Nor does the ‘all’ in the baptismal promise to ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself’ leave much room for picking and choosing whom you will help.
Lent is a time to be more serious and more intentional in following the commandments of Christ. It is perhaps an odd thing that the fact that in a modern city where opportunity is never lacking to obey the commandment “Give to him who begs from you” it is often so hard to obey. But at least once a year let’s remember that our Lord doesn’t say we should ask if the beggar deserves it, or wonder what horrid thing our alms might get spent on, or discuss the state’s duty to alleviate poverty. Perhaps once a year for forty days we can just give to everyone who asks, as our Lord commanded.
Still, what you do about all this is between you and God, and since we are not to judge one another, we won’t ask what you do. But the Gospel suggests that Jesus asks, and will ask (see Mt 25:31-46).

Of course when we talk of all these things, we need to bear in mind that Lent is a tool for Christians who want to practice their religion. It is not a set of tricks we think will make God love us (he already does), or forgive us (he already does), or will get us extra brownie points (merit). It is a way by which we keep our hearts and minds set on what God has done for us in Christ as we prepare to celebrate Easter, the Christian Passover. Above all, Lent is not an end in itself; it is about preparing to celebrate Easter. All the restraint and self-denial is a holding back so that we can let loose in the greatest feast of the Church Year. Some words of the Bishop of Durham are helpful here, and worth quoting at some length:
“…if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course, Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and put out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life … that ought to be blossoming, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do in only for sic weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities. new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”
- N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008), p. 257.