LETTER FROM THE VICARAGE
On this page we reproduce the monthly letter from our Vicar as it appears in our parish magazine, the Parish News.
Letter from the vicarage
FROM THE VICARAGE - FEBRUARY 2018
On New Year's Day it began – the first Cadbury Cream Egg advert! I know Easter is pretty early this year, but really!!
Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, this year, falls on Valentine's Day. There's something quite poignant about this. There's something quite appropriate that as we begin our preparations to remember and give thanks for all that Jesus did for us on the cross, we're reminded that it was out of love that he died and rose again for us. So to combine St Valentine, the Saint associated with love, with our grateful thanks for God's great love for all humanity seems entirely fitting.
But who was Valentine? He was a priest in Rome who was martyred in about 269 after being imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Claudius for secretly marrying young couples. Claudius had prohibited marriage for young couples as he feared that if his soldiers were married they would be less fierce in battle. He feared that their minds would be distracted by not wanting to leave their wives and children widowed and orphaned, hence the edict that they could not marry.
Roman society was known for its hedonism, and polygamous marriages were the norm. Christian teaching however holds sacred that marriage should be monogamous and for life, which flew in the face of Roman culture. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, more and more people came to faith and began to be attracted to the Christian understanding of marriage. This of course presented a problem for Valentine. How could he be faithful to his faith and respect the Emperor's edict? He couldn't. He chose to stand firm in his faith and follow Jesus. He married young couples in secret regardless of the risk. Eventually he was found out, imprisoned and martyred.
Legend has it that one of the men who was to judge Valentine, Asterius, had a daughter who was blind. It is said that Valentine prayed with her and healed her, and as a result Asterius and his family came to faith. The story goes that the last words Valentine wrote were to Asterius' daughter, and he signed the note 'from your Valentine'. And so the tradition of sending notes 'from your Valentine' was born. So we can see how Valentine's Day has become associated with romance, and a time of sending notes and gifts to the person (or people!) we love.
God does not seek to love us, or for us to love him, with a romantic love. His love for us, although passionate, is not of the fluffy, fleeting kind. Rather he loves us with as deep a love as ever we could imagine and which goes beyond our understanding, one that, for all our good intentions and efforts, we could only hope to faintly mirror back to him. But being the loving God that he is, he not only accepts, but rejoices in the love we return to him. Nowhere is this costly extravagant love of God shown more clearly than in the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Lent gives us an opportunity to reflect more deeply on this mystery. Why should God love us so much that he would send his only Son '... that whoever believeshim shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the worldcondemn the world, but to save the world through him.' (Jn 3:16-17)
Because God created us in his image, and the world we live in as a glimpse of heaven, and declared that it was 'very good' (Gen 1: 31). His creation was an outpouring and an expression of his love, where humanity lived in a good, loving, and rightful relationship with God, each other and the environment. The world sadly is now a somewhat tarnished glimpse of heaven, and we are no longer in a good, loving or right relationship with God, each other or our environment and God longs to put that right. But just as our love can only faintly mirror his, so our capacity to put these relationships right is pitiful compared to his. So God provided the way.
These are the mysteries that we allow space and time to reflect on during Lent. In truth we will never fully grasp the depth of God's love for us, or the Cross, and to many in the world this is all just foolish myth and nonsense. But this is nothing new, as we see in Paul's letter to the Corinthian church. He wrote:
'For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.' (1 Cor 1:21-23)
So just as Ash Wednesday appropriately falls on Valentine's Day, perhaps appropriately East Sunday falls on April Fools Day – now there has to be sermon in that!
Lent is traditionally a time to give something up. Often we think of giving up chocolate or coffee etc., something that we value. But as I look around me I wonder if what we value most these days is time, we never seem to have enough time, life is always 'busy'. So this Lent how about giving up some of our precious time to God?
Think about what you could do individually. You might like to read a devotional book to take you through Lent. There are many available providing a daily reading and reflection, either pop into a Bible Book Shop or browse on-line.
Or how about joining in with the Christian Aid 'Count Your Blessings' appeal? This gives you a daily thought with either an activity to do or a 'fee' to pay – for example, on a day when the thought is about refugees, you'll be asked to donate 20p for every pair of shoes you own. You can find out more on the Christian Aid website.
And there are things we can do together. We will be offering the Diocesan Lent Course 'Inspiring Vision'. It is always good to share our faith journeys with others and this course will help and encourage us to do that, so think about joining one of these weekly groups.
Or if you would like to give some of your time to quietly reflect more deeply on Jesus' journey, why not come along to 'Journey to the Cross'? This is a short devotional service with meditation on Friday evenings during Lent at 7.00 pm in St John the Baptist, Kirdford, and will last around 45 minutes.
However we choose to journey through Lent, I hope and pray that it will be a fruitful time for us all, that individually and together we will gain a deeper understanding of God's great love, and how that great love reaches out to each and every one of us. May we all be blessed this Lenten season.