Sunday 11th February
Year B: The Sunday Next Before Lent
Liturgical Colour: Green*
- Psalm 50.1-6
- 2 Kings 2.1-12
- 2 Corinthians 4.3-6
- Mark 9.2-9
(* In the Book of Common Prayer today is Quinquagesima – Purple or Green)
It seems to me only a moment since Christmas and yet here we are on the verge of Lent. The Latin name Quinquagesima means we are only 50 days (depending on which ones you count) from Easter Day!
Traditionally meat is eaten today (although the Orthodox church keeps Cheesefare in the week before Lent and has already forbidden it) and pancakes are flipped on Shrove Tuesday, as cupboards are emptied ahead of the fast of Lent.
Understandably, many people are determined to enjoy themselves ahead of the coming deprivations and this is why there are some great carnivals at this time of year, like Mardi Gras, which translates as Fat Tuesday. Perhaps that is why, in 1748, Benedict XIV introduced the idea that instead of being used to party, the period between Shrove Sunday and Tuesday should be a time of solemn preparation for Lent. In the Catholic tradition this includes making a formal confession. That is not what most of us will do, but an intentional examination of habits and behaviour that lead us away from rather than towards God and kingdom values, is almost always a good idea.
We will all have our own areas of ‘could do better’ that we might at least try to attend to during Lent. However, one area we all know we need to address is racial justice.
This Sunday is Racial Justice Sunday. It is an opportunity for all churches to reflect on the importance of racial justice, to give thanks for the gifts and beauty of human diversity, and to commit to end racism and acts of discrimination. * I urge you to mark it in some way this Sunday. There are some really excellent worship resources, sermons and reflections in this booklet produced by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to help us with this.
The mountain top experience of the transfiguration in our Gospel reading echoes back to some similar moments when Moses (Exodus 19.16-19) and Elijah (1 Kings 19.11-13) had heard the voice of God. This time Jesus was with them and Peter, James and John watched on amazed as the thin veil that separates God’s dimension, always close but usually hidden from ordinary life, was briefly lifted and they heard and felt God’s power and presence. Peter wants to capture the moment. No doubt if it had happened today he would have taken a selfie! But these moments are fleeting gifts. The true gift is not in the moment itself, however wonderful it might be, but in the change it effects.
Our experiences of God may not be so dramatic, but there is plenty of research to suggest that feeling the presence of God is in fact commonplace.
As my spiritual director often gently reminds me, climbing a mountain or spending time in prayer cannot guarantee God will turn up, but it will mean we are in the right place to notice and listen when it happens! With this in mind this year in Lent I am going to try (again!) to be more disciplined about prayer.
In more recent years it has become popular to do something positive as well as or rather than give something up for Lent. With that in mind…
I hope that as many of us as possible will mark Racial Justice Sunday this week. But let’s not then consider it ‘dealt with’. Perhaps we could take a look at our own racial justice page on the website and consider how we might encourage diversity in our churches and wider contexts. For example, by making sure all people from all backgrounds are invited to and contribute at meetings and are invited into leadership roles. And notice and appropriately speak out when we hear people being consciously or unconsciously bias. As Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Overcoming something as big and ingrained as racism might seem a great task, but anything is possible with God. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu reflected, “As much as the world has an instinct for evil and is a breeding ground for genocide, holocaust, slavery, racism, war, oppression, and injustice, the world has an even greater instinct for goodness, rebirth, mercy, beauty, truth, freedom and love.”
As we move from lament to action and from repentance to healing, may we be agents of God’s goodness, rebirth, mercy, beauty, truth, freedom and love in our broken and hurting world. *