Not far the time is coming as the year cycles round again, what the revelator John repeats with untiring voice, ‘for the time is near.’ For us who believe in Christ or attempt, at least, to follow Jesus, the time allotted us as preparation, as pre-judgment, even as repentance, the time we do not give ourselves to stop, and turn around instead of away, is close at hand. ‘There,’ holy and divine scripture says of Him, ‘He proclaimed the Good News from God. “The time has come,” He said, “and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”’ So we have Holy Church, that strange country which we say is ‘what salvation looks like’ coming to us with its tales, as it leads us patiently back onto the battlefield where we were born, this time with eyes open, and offers us the way out, and in.
Great and holy Lent. We hear its name mentioned and inwardly cringe as at a lion’s roar while outwardly we seek to escape by conforming to the ‘joyful sadness’ and the litanies of self-denial both spiritual and physical that lie ahead. Suddenly, in a moment, we are shown whatever one sin we are guilty of committing night and day with all our being, that for all our unconscious self-justifications we remain ignorant of, thinking ‘I am okay, I’m a good person, I haven’t killed anyone.’ Now we have something to tell the priest at our annual confession, leaving us only to worry whether we will have enough money to assist our hand-picked poor, whether we will be able to subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and lentil soup for six blessèd weeks, and whether we can apply our paltry efforts at prayer to fulfill our obligations.
Yes, let us grieve together. We are not Jews, who yearly repent for ten days, confident that they will be just as saved as we think we are, by these acts. Lucky for them, their Temple has been destroyed, is no more on this earth, and they need only repent, no longer offering bloody sacrifice. But luckier still, the Messiah whose name they dare not know stands before the only Ark of the Covenant there ever was to sprinkle His own blood, not that of bulls and rams, on the Mercy Seat, and so save them who know Him not as well as us who say we do. We are not Muslims, whose fast follows the moon as it migrates around its shortened year, impatient of the day when their Mahdi appears, accompanied by our Jesus who stands behind him. They know better than to wait for someone else to straighten out the world.
No, brethren, we are Christians, who confess the God-man, who says ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing,’ and yet who tells us, ‘You will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.’ We are caught between His words, paralysed by our doubt, but we have our excuses. Doubt Him, no. Only doubt ourselves. We can’t believe that He has entrusted us with the keys to the Kingdom. That He has added us to the angels who guard the entrance to Paradise. ‘The world, just like us, is evil. We can’t make it better. We can only watch as it burns, and weep. Yes, just as we weep for our sins, even as we stand in them, bathing in our own blood. The old man must die before the New Man can be born. The old world must be destroyed, so the City not-made-by-hands can descend. It is all God’s work, not ours.’
And so the year keeps cycling round. It will be Lent soon, a time of Light, not of ‘night, when no one can work,’ but a season to prepare our soil, to plough it, to fertilize it, to seed it for the only crop worth planting. Yes, the old man must die in us, but we need not kill him, only keep our eyes on the New Man who we are to become, as we follow Him. Yes, the old world is evil, but that is not the world Christ comes to save, nor the world He calls us to live in. For the path He treads He walks in us, and that land is redeemed by our footsteps, or not at all. Come, brethren, let us grieve together. Then, arise and take hold of the ploughshare. Yes, we were all born on this battlefield, yet not to fight but to plant, for the prophet declares, ‘These will hammer their swords into plowshares, their spears into sickles…
‘O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh.’
Isaiah 2:4b-5 Jerusalem Bible