March 2020

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First Thoughts: Revd Jane

Lent is a time in the church year when we have an intense focus on sin. This can be a very challenging thing to do. Often the emphasis in our liturgy is on our own personal sin, the things we have individually done wrong and leave us in need of God’s forgiveness.

Years ago enthusiastic penitents wore sackcloth made of goat’s hair, covered themselves with ash, self-flagellated and fasted to the point of starvation. Thankfully we don’t take Lent to those extremes. To contemporary eyes they are a form of self-abuse, and have an unhealthy hatred of the body.

That said, Lent is a forty day opportunity to look at sin squarely.  What is it and how does it affect us? Sin is the dominant Christian metaphor for all that is wrong with us and our world. Personal sin is an important part of this, but it is only one part. Scripture makes clear that there are other problems.  It is not a one-size-fits-all sin. The story of the Exodus reminds us that some people are oppressed. Personal sin was not what afflicted the Israelites, it was the need for liberation.  The Israelites didn’t need forgiveness, they needed freedom and a path of return from exile. Another biblical image for what ails us is infirmity. There are many stories of illness and woundedness in scripture. We don’t need forgiveness when we are ill, we need healing.  We don’t need forgiveness when we are blind, we need to see. The narrow focus on sin as something individual that requires forgiveness misses the fuller and richer biblical meanings of sin: the institutionalised sin and systemic sin. It misses the understanding that Lent is at its heart an opportunity for us to respond to a call by God to grow into wholeness.

During Lent let us not get so miserable about our personal sins that we forget the doctrine of imago Dei, which tells us we are made in the image of God. It is a reference to a passage in Genesis 1:27, where it reads,

"So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

All of us come from this original blessing and all of us have the image of God within.  Religion’s primary task is to reconnect us to this original blessing and our original identity in God. There are things in us that need to die during Lent: false attachments, greed, pride and spiritual apathy, to name a few, so that other aspects of ourselves can come forth and flourish. During these Purple days of Lent, let a desire to grow into our fullness be part of our forty day journey, alongside our desire to be forgiven for sins.

Revd Jane