Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives a clear warning to his first hearers and to us today about the dangers of drawing attention to ourselves and parading our piety in front of others. He goes on to say that charitable giving, prayer and fasting are things between us and God and we shouldn’t make them known to everyone.
His words are both direct and rather difficult for us to hear but they do point us in the right direction at the beginning of this holy season of Lent.
Our first reading from the book of Joel, takes a similarly practical line as the prophet urges his hearers to remove burdens from others, to care for the afflicted and to feed the hungry. Fasting and humility are not about drawing attention to ourselves but rather pointing away from ourselves. ‘Return to the Lord with all your heart … rend your hearts and not your clothing.’ That is what will make a difference to our relationship with God and with others, ushering in God’s kingdom and transforming our world.
Our Lent art installation this year is entitled Footfall by Alison Clark. This great drop of cloth, covered in prints and embroidery partially veils the glory of the high altar screen during this season. The prints were taken by Alison from the ledger stones found in the Retrochoir, capturing the feet of pilgrims to this place over many centuries. They bear witness to the countless unknown and nameless people who have worshipped here and served this community; who have been transformed by their encounter with the living God and in turn have transformed the lives of those around them. They have not drawn attention to themselves and we don’t know who they were but over the centuries their witness, their feet, have made an impression, a footfall in this holy place. We know little or nothing of their stories, their experience of God or what they achieved, but little by little their walking in this place has left a legacy through these stones soaked in prayer and service.
Today we are all so much more aware of the damage the human race is inflicting up our planet; devouring resources, poisoning the earth, polluting the air and the oceans in our unbridled desire to accumulate things. As we ponder the powerful image of Footfall this Lent we might like to consider how we can tread more lightly upon the earth, leaving less of an impression than our forebears have. How we might lift burdens from the earth by changes to the way we live our lives. This could well be part of our Lent discipline this year as we look to cherish our fragile planet and safeguard it for future generations.
Jesus ends his teaching in the gospel by warning against the accumulation of things, of stuff, for they will not last. He tells us rather to look to the things of God which will remain for ever. Jesus says to each of us, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
What do we value and treasure most and where will our hearts lead us this Lent?