From Rev. Anna Bishop
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I have always loved a good murder mystery and I also love spotting places I know on TV series. So Morse and Lewis are favourites of mine, and when Grantchester began in 2014 it definitely made me fancy myself as a bit of a sleuthing cleric!
It also made me find and read every single one of the Grantchester Mysteries. They are six novels published between 2012 and 2017 by James Runcie, son of the late former Archbishop, Robert Runcie, whose protagonist is the Vicar of Grantchester, Rev. Sidney Chambers. Sidney is rather different in the books from James Norton, who plays the part on TV! But a feature of the novels is that Sidney is always grumpy during Lent, because he always gives up alcohol! And this grumpiness is always very evident to his friends, family, colleagues and parishioners.
This certainly adds humour to the novels, but it has always made me very dubious as to whether this form of self-denial is really in the true spirit of Lent! And yet so many of us do seem to think it our duty to make ourselves miserable in some way during Lent. I was told a few weeks ago about somebody who was planning to give up all forms of caffeine for Lent –thatsounds impossible to me!
Or perhaps I’m being negative–maybe it’s a Lenten detox! This seems to be a very common approach to Lent these days, especially in wider society. Coming at the transition to Spring, people seem to see it as a good time to go on a diet, give up bad habits or indeed cultivate a new and healthy lifestyle.
This is very admirable, and certainly not something I have ever succeeded in! And arguably it is a good and grateful way of honouring the bodies God has graciously given us. But again, I’m not sure this is really the purpose of the Lenten fast.
Jesus went into the desert not primarily to fast –he could have done that anywhere. Rather, the Spirit drove him into an environment where he would come to the end of his own human resources. His only option would be to rely on God for his survival.
In the same way, whatever Lenten discipline we choose, its purpose is to remind us of our dependence on God, not on the strength of our own willpower. Indeed, each year it is an invitation to come to the end of our own resources so that our only recourse is the grace of God.
Partway through Lent last year we entered our first national Lockdown; we will certainly not have emerged fully from the current Lockdown before the end of this Lent. Many of us reached the end of our own resources months ago. So perhaps this Lent there is no need to make life harder than it is at present. We have been living through an extended Lent. Instead, this Lent, let us daily make the conscious decision to get through each day not by our own resilience, but by the love and grace of God abundantly poured out upon us, which can transform even the most barren of desert places.