Week 1                                                          LENT I                                  “Now is the accepted time.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:   2 Corinthians 6:1-10; St. Matthew 4:1-11

 

Why have men always fasted?  Originally, perhaps, to move the pity of heaven by a sort of hungerstrike; to show that their prayers were in earnest.  But it is as necessary now as ever it was that we should show our prayers to be in earnest.  God bestows himself on those who desire him.  What then is the evidence that we desire him?  Not words alone, feeling still less.  Nothing but action can give seriousness to our desire for God.  We are in earnest if for God‘s sake we displease ourselves. If we abstain from needless indulgence, much more, if we find the weak point in our service of God, and attack it with resolution.  Resolutions are no good, unless we are prepared to find them broken, and to renew them every day. It is no fast if it is easy.  Displease yourself, and have fellowship with Christ. For he pleased not himself, and his prayers were heard.  And for what did he pray?  He prayed for, and obtained, our salvation. 

                                                                             Austin Farrer, The Crown of the Year, Dacre Press, 1952

 

Collect for Lent I

 

O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights:  Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.   Amen.

 

“Now is the accepted time.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10)

 

          What does it mean to receive God’s grace “in vain”?  Grace is the free gift of God’s love - not what we deserve or have earned, but what we need.  At the end of Chapter 5, St. Paul declares that God has opened to us the way of reconciliation through the sacrificial death of Jesus, by which He removes our sin and offers us righteousness in Christ.  This is the activity of God’s grace.  We are both to receive and to share it, living out the new life in communion with God -  not simply after death, but today, here and now, for, “Now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.” Insofar as we do not do this, the gift is “vain” in our lives.  How does His grace take hold of your life?  Are you “amazed” by it?  Would you say that you have received that grace “in vain” or faithfully?

          St. Paul goes on to write about his own experience - and clearly that of some fellow ministers of the Gospel, for he refers to “we” - of that grace at work in his life.  Their faithful response is one of patient endurance and is presented both to establish credentials (v.3 “We give no offence in anything…”) and to set out the costs and blessings which accompany it.  William Barclay sums up the costs thus: i) the internal conflicts (v.4  “tribulations”, “needs”, “distresses”);  ii) external tribulations (v.5 “stripes”, “prisons”, “tumults” ); iii) the effort of the Christian life ( v.5 “toils”, “sleepless nights”, “fastings”).   But God gives us what we need to overcome: i) God-given qualities of mind (v.6 “purity”, “knowledge”, “patience”),            ii) qualities of heart (v.6 “kindness”, “the Holy Spirit”, “sincere love”), iii) equipment for the work of preaching the gospel (v.7 “the word of truth”, “the power of God”, “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” [i.e. for attack and for defence].  Finally, in verses 8-10, St. Paul contrasts the way in which they are viewed - one might say, “caricatured” - by others with the reality of who they are in Christ.  It is summed up in the final phrase, acknowledging that, in worldly terms all has been lost, yet, in terms of the Kingdom, they (we) have all things in Christ.  What does it cost you to follow Jesus?

 

Week 2                                                          LENT II                                 “Called to holiness.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:  1 Thessalonians 4:1-7; St. Matthew 15:21-28

 

What parent could take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs?  For the hunger of the children is simple and obsessing.  When they are hungry there is nothing that they want but food, and until their hunger is relieved, they have no mind for anything else.  Their present mind is their hunger; they are their hunger. How happy are parents in the ability to bestow contentment so simply and so fully, as by giving the children the children’s bread.  And now in the name of the divine Father I must take bread, say grace for it, and distribute it.  But when it comes to distribution, I shall find myself in the children’s part; we shall receive together, as though from those merciful hands.  The mercy of heaven rejoices, to satisfy the children’s hunger with the children’s bread.  Their hunger is for this, and this is what satisfies.  What happiness, therefore, to the giver.  And the children are happy if they hunger for this bread, if their hunger possesses them, until their hunger is their mind.  Blessed are they, says Christ, that hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled.  And Christ is best able so to say, being himself the bread.            Austin Farrer

 

Collect for Lent II

 

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

“Called to holiness.” (I Thessalonians 4:1-7)

 

                      St. Paul was writing to Christian converts who had grown up in a pagan society.  Unlike the Jews, who followed strict moral codes set out in the Law and Commandments given through Moses, the Greeks had been notorious for their tolerance of sexual immorality.  Now, under the Roman Empire, the accepted behaviour of Thessalonian society continued to be a challenge for the new believers in Jesus who had been called out to a new way of living (literally “walking”, i.e. “…just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;” v.1).  “For this is the will of God,…that each of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.” v.(3&) 4   Some commentators have interpreted  these words as referring to a man’s wife -  apparently rabbis used “vessel”  (Greek skeuos) in this way -  hence calling for sanctity within marriage and avoidance of adultery (v.6).  Others read “vessel” as “body” (see 2 Cor.4:7), and understand this as a call to personal holiness (v.6 could refer to business dealings).  

          Earlier in the letter (see chapter 1), St. Paul commends them for continuing in the faith; now he calls them on to further growth.   They have turned “from  idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9), but clearly their behaviour has not yet come fully under the Gospel standard.  The call to abstain from sexual immorality (Greek porneia, often translated as “fornication”, but having to do with any sexual relations outside of marriage) is seen as more than a directive from the apostle: it is “the will of God” v.3 (also v.8).  Christians are called to set up the standard of holiness as a clear alternative to what the world has on offer.  Do our lives display this standard ?  The call to holiness affects every aspect of our relation-ships with others: speech (gossip, talking behind others’ backs); honesty in business; honour-ing God with our finances; integrity between thoughts/attitudes and actions (Mt. 5:21-30).

 

 

Week 3                                                          LENT III                               “Children of the light.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:  Ephesians 5:1-14  St. Luke 11:14-26

 

CHRIST broke his mysterious body and gave it to his disciples at the Supper without explaining at that time what the breaking and giving would mean.  There was no need, the facts would presently make it clear.  What then, was done to this body?  It was stripped, scourged, and nailed to a cross:  stripped of all dignity and all possession, scourged with the stroke of penal justice, and nailed up like a dead thing while it was still alive.  The body you receive in this sacrament accomplished its purpose by nailing to a tree.  You are to become this body, you are to be nailed to Christ’s sacrificial will.  The nails that hold you are God’s commandments, your rules of life, prayers, confessions, communions regularly observed.  Let us honour the nails for Christ’s sake, and pray that by the virtue of his passion they may hold fast.  Austin Farrer

 

Collect for Lent III

 

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

“Children of the light.” (Ephesians 5:1-14)

 

            How are we to be “imitators [followers] of God”?  Does it have to do with displaying the “family likeness” to our heavenly Father?  Jesus, in the “Sermon on the Mount” exhorts His disciples to behave as, “sons of your Father in heaven” and to, “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”. (Mt.5:45 & 48)  He is speaking particularly about loving enemies, returning blessing upon those who persecute you - demonstrating the higher ethics of the Kingdom of God.  St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, has been setting before his fellow disciples the need to live in keeping with their new creation in Christ - “in true righteousness and holiness” 4:24 - especially regarding their willingness to forgive one another, “even as God in Christ forgave you” 4:32.  Jesus is the model for how that new life is to be lived: the One in whom we see the perfect life of God lived out in human flesh (4:32 - 5:1,2).  St. John wrote of Jesus as the “true Light” Jn.1:1-9 and St. Paul describes the Ephesians’ as those who were, “once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.” 5:8  To walk in the light is to live according to the higher ethics of the Kingdom, in holiness and righteousness, refusing to co-operate with the things of darkness, rather exposing them for what they truly are 5:11, 12.  “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who practises evil hates the light…lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” Jn 3:19-21.  It is not only what we do, but how we speak as well.  Immorality is not worthy of being discussed nor joked about by “saints” [i.e. Christians] 5:3,4.  What specific things in your own life need to be brought into the Light?  Anything in our words, actions or thoughts with which we would not be comfortable being about if others - especially the Lord - could observe us, is surely something which survives only in the darkness.   Does this judgement upon careless use of the tongue apply to gossip, unkind criticisms, talking behind others’ backs, cursing, etc.?

 

 

Week 4                                                          LENT IV                                “Freedom in Christ.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:  Galatians 4:26 - 5:1; St. John 6:5-14

 

Everything that is true of Christ’s body is true of us in some manner.  He gives us his body that we may become his body.  Christ’s body died on the cross, he also rose.  The resurrection is ours, but the death is also ours.  Many men, at the last challenge, have consented to be martyrs, and set their bodies aside.  But Christ’s passion was no more than the last expression of what he had done all his life. He had set his body aside whenever its demands conflicted with man’s need or God’s will, and so he had rehearsed his death continually; not morbidly, but with joy and self-forgetfulness.  We have many opportunities so to rehearse our death, and how steadily we reject them!  Our bed, our chair retains us when we should get up and pray; fleshly delights of act and imagination, some by no means innocent, hold us from following better inspirations.  Our own pleasure comes before our neighbour’s, vanity before sympathy.  How will it be when rehearsals are over, and we have to act our part, to put our bodies finally off, that we may possess God?  If Christ offers us up with his own death in this sacrament, it is that we may die a voluntary and daily death, and merit a daily resurrection.  Austin Farrer

 

Collect for Lent IV

 

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

“Freedom in Christ.” (Galatians 4:26 - 5:1)

 

What does it mean to be truly free?  To do simply what we want to do?  Or is it to do God’s will?

[Read Genesis 15:1-6; 16; 17:1 - 18:5; 21:1-21, esp.v.12].  The Lord had promised to Abram more descendants than he could count.  Although Sarai, his wife, appeared to be barren, still Abram trusted in God’s promise.  However, as the years went by without result, Sarai offered her maid/bondservant/slave Hagar to her husband that he might have a son with her - who, following ancient tradition, could then be considered as Sarai’s son, since Hagar belonged to her as well.  Yet this was the human way of doing things (recall St. John 1:13) not God’s way.  As we see again and again in Scripture, the Lord works through human weakness, through our faith in Him, that we might be, like Isaac, children of promise: born according to the Lord’s will (reflected in name changes Gen.17:5 & 15).  St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, equates Hagar and her son with Mount Sinai, the Old Covenant and bondage to the Law: the external commandments which, although  we endeavour to keep them by our human effort, are always beyond our ability to fulfil.  In contrast, Sarah and Isaac are equated with the heavenly Jerusalem, the New Covenant and freedom in Christ: the grace that works through faith.  Commentators, such as Chrysostom or Luther, see the quote from Isaiah 54:1 (v.27) as referring to the shift from the synagogue to the Church; from the children of Abraham by natural birth, to his true children by faith (cf. Jn.8:37-40; Rom.4:9ff; Gal.3:7); where there were no “children” among the Gentiles, now there is an abundance through the Gospel: we have become children of the heavenly Jerusalem, our Mother: the Church of Jesus Christ.  When we truly live by grace, giving up ourselves to the Father’s will, apprehending the Gospel by faith, we become free to “Love God, and do what you like (want)[St. Augustine] because what we then desire is nothing but the Father’s will.

 

Week 5                                  LENT V (Passion Sunday)                     “Entering into the New Covenant.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:  Hebrews 9:11-15; St. Matthew 20:20-28

 

The body we receive in this sacrament is a body that died, and having died was buried.  The body was done to death and laid in a tomb, to wait for a divine miracle.  Christ lies in his sepulchre the image of Christian hope; nothing lies there but the bare hope of resurrection.  Hope stretches between sacrifice and life renewed.  Vision can often see no further than the sacrifice which God’s commandments impose; it cannot descry the enrichment of life which God’s grace intends.  Hope holds the gap. ‘Must I rule the appetite of sex within the law of Christ, must I persevere in practices of prayer which are dry and seemingly infertile?  It is death to my spirits.  What life will ever come of it for the Christian people or for me?’  If this is death, I ought to embrace it for Christ’s sake, and be willing not only to die, but to lie dead in sure and certain hope.  Where the burial of Christ is, there the resurrection of Christ will be.  Austin Farrer

 

Collect for Lent V Passion Sunday

 

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

“Entering into the New Covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15)

 

            If a “covenant” involves an agreement between two parties where each vows to keep his/her part, what is required of us under the New Covenant?  (see Romans 12)

            William Barkley wrote: “We must remember three things which are basic to the thought of the writer to the Hebrews. i) Religion is access to God.  Its function is to bring a man into God’s presence.  ii) This is a world of pale shadows and imperfect copies; beyond is the world of realities.  The function of all worship is to bring men into contact with the eternal realities.  That was what the worship of the Tabernacle was meant to do; but the earthly Tabernacle and its worship are pale copies of the real Tabernacle and the real worship; and only the real Tabernacle and the real worship can give access to reality.  iii) There can be no religion without sacrifice.  Purity is a costly thing; access to God demands purity; somehow man’s sin must be atoned for and his uncleanness cleansed.  With these ideas in his mind the writer to the Hebrews goes on to show that Jesus is the only High Priest who brings a sacrifice that can open the way to God and that that sacrifice is himself.” (Daily Study Bible Hebrews).  C.S.Lewis referred to this world as the “Shadowlands”, and pictured the Kingdom of God as that which was truly real (see his reflection on heaven & hell: The Great Divorce ).  Most of what we achieve in this world passes away with us, so Jesus called His followers to be concerned with that which is eternal: “treasures in heaven”. (Mt.6:19-21).  Hebrews tells us that Jesus has offered the “One oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” (B.C.P. p.82)  In contrast with the sacrifices under the Old Covenant (“bulls & goats” Leviticus 16 esp.vs.14,15; “ashes of a heifer” Numbers 19 esp.v.2) Jesus’ self-offering counts for all people in every age, opening to each one who would approach the Father by means of Him (He is the “Mediator” v.15)  the Way to reconciliation and new life with God (Jn.14:6)  All of the ritual requirements of the Law are fulfilled in Jesus (read esp. Leviticus 1-27).  If our lives are truly given over to following and living in Him, we are made righteous before the Father.(cf. 2Cor.5:21)

 

 

Week 6                                              LENT VI(Palm Sunday)                     “The mind of Christ.”

 

Collect for ASH WEDNESDAY

 

ALMIGHTY  and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou has made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:  Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Readings:   Philippians 2:5-11; St. Matthew 27:1-54

 

After Jesus had died on the cross, his disciples hoped to keep his body with them as a sacred relic.  They shut it in with stone, they came to embalm it.  St. Magdalen was disconsolate that she could not find it.  But Jesus had given his body to them at the Supper in the form in which he meant them to have it, a form which did not involve its being stored on earth.  He would continually give it them from heaven, where he lives.  It is a heavenly being he bestows on us, it is in his heavenly body that he unites us.  Lift up your hearts; by this sacrament you are parts of Christ, and Christ is the heart of heaven.  Austin Farrer.

 

Collect for Lent VI  Palm Sunday

 

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility:  Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

“The mind of Christ.” (Philippians 2:5-11 [cf. Romans 12:2])

 

          What does it mean to have the “mind of Christ”?  Philippians 2 begins with St. Paul’s exhortation to his friends that they be “of one mind” (v.2); yet this unanimity is not to be simply a consensus of opinion, but rather a mutual submission to the mind “which was also in Christ Jesus”.  The attitude which this represents is detailed in verses 5-11, as Paul describes the self-effacement of the One who put aside the glory which was His by right - by very nature! -  in order to share our humanity and to suffer both with us and for us, even to the point of death upon the Cross.  This is the “last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45) who restores the right order of human relationship with God through a life of perfect, humble, sinless obedience to the Father’s will, redeeming us by His atoning sacrifice upon the Cross. 

          The “first” Adam grasped at equality with God (“…in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” Genesis 3:5); Jesus let go (Phil.2:7).  Adam, coveting a new life of wisdom and freedom, trusted to his own judgement, contrary to the expressed will of God, and received bondage, darkness and death.  Jesus did nothing “but the will of the Father who sent Me.” (John 5:30 cf.19), although it meant  walking the “Via Dolorosa” (“Way of sorrows” i.e. “Way of the Cross”), being bound, beaten, surrounded by darkness, and lifted up in death; and He was raised into glory, opening to us the way of salvation, true freedom, and eternal Life.  Still, I say, “It’s my life to live as I choose!“  St. Paul reminds me, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.“ (I Cor. 6:19,20)  and Jesus calls me onward, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) 

            The “mind” we are to have is that of the “followers” or “disciples” of Jesus, those who pattern their lives upon His attitude, His will, His ways - “ …for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.” “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Mt. 10:25; John 13:15; 15:12) - which are the Father’s attitude, will and ways.  It is not just trying to be humble like He is; it is giving up ourselves wholly to the Father’s will, letting that become the focus of our lives: dying in Christ, being raised to new life in Him. “For me to live is Christ,…” (Gal. 1:21)