A weekly message during Lockdown from St Peter’s Vicar, Rev John Rainer
This coming Wednesday (17th) will be Ash Wednesday, and so begins our marking of Lent for this year. Very few of us could have imagined that we would still be living under the present restrictions, and yet we currently have very little idea of when public worship might safely resume.
Lent has traditionally been a time for Christians to participate in a variety of activities designed to bring personal and corporate renewal in the weeks before Easter. Many of us at St Peter’s have, in past years, gathered in groups organised by Shipley Christians Together, or studied recommended Lent books together. This year, none of that is open to us, or at least not in the same way.
In the evening of Ash Wednesday, on St Peter’s YouTube channel, I will be leading an online service which will include both acts of ashing and of Holy Communion. Obviously it is not possible to receive these things in person, but only through prayer; hopefully this will allow some of us to share in setting the tone for the coming weeks.
During the Sundays of Lent we will be picking up some themes from ‘Rhythms of Life’ a course which has been developed for the Diocese with the aim of helping Christians to grow in prayer and to find a closer relationship with God. It is possible to follow this as a Diocesan Lent Course, (details on the Diocesan Website here) or to use a number of resources available via the Diocesan website as the basis of our own individual or group study. I would commend this material to you, especially since Sunday services will only give us a taster of what is available.
Why do we think this is so important? Recently I noticed something in a Bible passage which I had read hundreds of times before without spotting it. In Daniel chapter 9, the prophet confesses the sins of God’s people and seeks forgiveness and restoration for them. God responds by sending an angel to him with a message of encouragement and exhortation. The part I had not noticed before was that in verse 21 we are told that this happened “at the time of the evening sacrifice”. Although the Temple had been destroyed over 50 years previously, and Daniel could barely have been able to remember it, the pattern of his life was still ruled by God’s rhythms and practices rather than those of the prevailing culture around him. Previously in the book he had been placed under immense pressure to abandon such habits, but he had not given in – and hence God was able to bless him via an angelic visitation which had a major prophetic edge and huge significance for the people of God.
Over the past year, we too have been forcibly separated from the worship and patterns of faith which have sustained us in the past. Whilst this has not separated us from God’s love, it has been challenging for many of us, and we have in some cases discovered or rediscovered the importance of spiritual disciplines in keeping us close to God. Daniel’s story also suggests that God can act in remarkable ways if we maintain these disciplines.
Your newsletter also contains details of a short course of meditations which Helen Scott has offered to lead for us on Wednesdays during Lent. Thanks so much to Helen for offering this, and I want to commend this to you, especially if you aren’t sure whether a longer Lent Course is really for you.
In addition I continue to commend to you the daily acts of worship broadcast on weekdays on the church’s Facebook page, and encourage you to join with these to inform your own prayers. My thanks to the group who have been helping me to lead both Morning and Evening Prayer.
With love and prayers,
Lord Jesus Christ, during Your ministry on Earth You showed Your power and compassion by healing people of all ages and stations of life from physical, mental, and spiritual ailments. Be present now to people who need Your loving touch because of COVID-19. May they feel Your power of healing through the care of doctors and nurses, and through your direct touch.
Take away the fear, anxiety, and feelings of isolation from people receiving treatment or under quarantine. Give them a sense of purpose in pursuing health and protecting others from exposure to the disease. Protect their families and friends and bring peace to all who love them. In your name we pray. Amen.