Succentor - The Revd Rachel Young
Lent can be a difficult time.
Its themes are demanding:
- prayer and fasting
- a recognition of doubt -
all to focus our minds on the health of our faith.
It’s not obviously one of the most joyful times of the church’s year. It can sometimes feel as if we are living under a big, black cloud.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written whilst he was imprisoned for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
Not only was he suffering for his faith
but so too was the Philippian church.
Paul writes to encourage them,
to urge them to put away their internal differences and to be united, so that they could be effective witnesses in their world.
We heard Paul talk about himself, and could be excused from thinking that he was boasting.
But his life experience
is the third example that he is giving to his readers
as a model of self-giving for the good of others.
The first role-model to follow is Jesus Christ;
Next he cites his fellow-workers Timothy and Epaphroditus;
And then, himself.
Paul’s message is that whatever he had inherited, what he has now is even better, and he is pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.
Despite his situation, there is a pervading sense of joy throughout this letter – and indeed the word ‘Rejoice’ occurs nine times.
We, like the Philippians, are a post-Pentecost church.
Even in Lent.
Although we are observing the liturgical year,
we must not lose sight of the reality
that we live a life that can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
We, like those in the early churches, are often burdened by internal divisions and arguments; we too are trying to live a counter-cultural lifestyle, and may know opposition; we also live in a society in which many worship other gods, at the altars celebrity, of wealth and prosperity, or of self-interest.
Our personal lives may become burdened by this context.
We may become so paralysed by the feeling of living under a big, black cloud that we’re tempted to give up our life of faith.
The disciplines of Lent then feel too heavy, too much.
But Paul’s message is that even though we are so burdened, we – like him - can know a transformation.
His plea to follow the example of Christ
is so that we can grow a Christ-like mind-set,
which will guide our belief and our actions.
When we dwell on the reality of our sins,
we can know forgiveness.
We when examine our lifestyle,
we can be inspired to make changes which help others.
When we recognise the presence of doubt,
we can know joy.
Although it’s not always easy, our difficulties can be reframed in light of the reality of Christ.
The hope and promise for the future that Paul knew
were forged in the crucible of suffering.
His experience, and that of early Christians,
was the same as that of many Christians down the ages.
The Christian life is not a bed of roses.
It is demanding and can be uncomfortable.
But it can also be a life of hope and transformation.