Sunday 21 February 2021 – First Sunday in Lent
In the succinct phrasing of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus the Beloved is baptised by John in the Jordan. He is immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness where he faces temptation. He is safe, even amidst wild beasts, the angels waiting on him.
After John’s arrest, Jesus returns to Galilee where he conveys to one and all “the good news of God.”
From then to now, we are thus invited to “repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1.15).
The word “repent” refers to our profound change of outlook – of our attitudes, of our lives – in the light of Christ.
We repent, including asking for forgiveness of our sins, to see more clearly what God is doing in us and for us.
The New Testament Greek word is “metanoia”.
As we sometimes sing, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord.”
We thus sing and pray our way through Lent, seeking to do exactly what Jesus encourages us to do: “believe in the good news”.
That is, to welcome the love of God fully visible in Jesus, knowing that the love of God bestows on us what we ourselves cannot create or attain.
In the love of God, we appreciate that everything we have is a gift.
The One who is the Resurrection and the Life, comes forth from the wilderness to say, “I have come that you may have life and in abundance” (John 10.10).
The meaning of our lives is in this continuing process of conversion, towards deeper communion with God and with one another, in time and unto all eternity.
Our Lenten disciplines amplify these realities, to give us fresh heart and enthusiasm, in resurrection faith.
In this anxious and troubled time, I imagine we all feel drawn to now offer our Lenten discipline for the grace and healing of all.
Believing, as we do, in the good news of God’s providence and presence, we can but offer the prayers of our hearts.
Hans Heysen’s very vivid Australian painting evokes, don’t you think, our Lenten spiritual journey, “droving into the light” of Christ?
In “the journey of our souls”, as we offer the prayers of our Lenten discipline, we have the encouragement of one another.
I certainly felt that encouragement very deeply this week.
May I therefore conclude this reflection on the beginning of Lent with four ‘Stories from The Week’.
Whilst the people are very different, they all give encouragement and deeper understanding.
1. In recent years, I have been blessed by a lovely friendship with the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria.
Over lunch this week he told me more about the loving family in which he grew up in Sri Lanka.
In terms of his generous and warm interfaith leadership, he referenced to a particularly influential and poignant moment.
His mother taught at a Catholic School in Colombo. When Mohamed’s father died suddenly and his body was in the home, prior to burial, the nuns from that Catholic School came to see and comfort Mohamed’s mum. They stayed all night, sharing the vigil in loving and prayerful friendship.
This prayerful sharing in his family’s grief and the visual beauty of their presence touched Mohamed very deeply.
It is an experience from which he lives so generously as a leader in our multi-faith Australia.
2. We are preparing for another Day of Prayer and Fasting, led by our First Nations Christian leaders. It will be on Saturday 27 February. In our prayerful preparatory meeting this week, one First Nations leader spoke of a conversation with young workers from India. He asked them how they were going. They were grateful for his interest and shared: “We miss our fathers…”
This wonderful and Godly wise leader then spoke of Australia as a nation of orphans. In gracious manner, he spoke of the young convicts who came here from the UK; young Aboriginals of the stolen generations; and, young refugees with absent fathers because of war and various forms of breakdown and linked them all to these youngsters from India.
He went on to pray the Lord’s Prayer…“Our Father in Heaven…”
3. More humorously, my friend Tony is a very faithful and astute Christian lay leader. He was recently given some old photos from an uncle’s back shed. In them, he found a faded photo of his dad and uncle outside the Ford Dealership in Sea Lake, that small country town in the Mallee.
Tony went up to Sea Lake, along the road that leads to Ouyen and Mildura.
As his wife was taking a photo outside the still visible Ford sign, an old bloke wandered up and asked him what his interest was.
When Tony told him, the old local told him a remarkable story about Tony’s dad:
“In one footy final, your dad kicked five goals from the half-forward flank. In the post-game celebrations the Big Man in Town, made a very effusive speech, lauding this great achievement. Before he had finished, your dad seized the moment and interrupted saying, “Well can you give me two quid, so I can take Shirley to the Catholic Ball?!”
The crowd conveyed their boisterous support for this romantic proposal and the two quid was provided. Tony’s dad took Shirley to the Ball. Love bloomed. Marriage followed – kids, too, including Tony who was left to ponder how his existence is linked to five goals from the half-forward flank in a game of Mallee bush footy!
4. A final story involves Sister Patricia Fox. Some of us did what we could when she was facing oppression from the bleak current leadership of the Philippines. She was forced to leave, notwithstanding years of costly dedicated work for vulnerable people in the Philippines. I had not met Sister Pat, except on Zoom, when she suddenly materialised in a library where I was returning books. Straight away her conversation was about the support we need to give particular people now also facing oppression in the Philippines. Her passion for justice is inspirational. Today I received word of further work she is doing on advocacy, with other South Asian civil society networks for peace and justice, regarding the military coup in Myanmar.
Whilst she has life, you can see her drive to ensure all share in the abundance of Jesus promise.
As the poets say, the world is made up of stories!
For me, these are stories of moments and people of grace in daily life.
Noticing and sharing such moments help us keep “droving into the light”, as believers in the good news which Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel.
With agape love and prayers,
Bishop Philip Huggins, NCCA President
First published on the National Council of Churches in Australia website on 21 February 2021 (slightly amended).Jump to next article