AS a church, we are now deep in the season of Lent. While many practices have now grown up around the observance of this season, the primary purpose is not about rituals but about taking time to think seriously about Jesus Christ and what it means to follow him.
In this invitation to reflect on who Jesus Christ is for us and for the world, we are drawn into the story of Jesus living in our midst, showing us ways of renewal, life and hope. The season of Lent draws us towards Holy Week and Easter. We encounter stories that remind us whose we are. We are reminded that in Jesus we are given the chance for new life over and over again. We are pulled again into the life of God who anchors us, softens our hearts and opens our minds.
The season calls us to ask ourselves again: Do I truly believe Jesus is the Christ? Am I willing to be living as a disciple of Christ when the way is not clear and the path not easy? Am I willing to open my heart to the work of the Spirit that my faith might be renewed?
Reflecting deeply on the stories of Christ strips us bare. The season enables us to face our weakness and woundedness. It helps us confront the ways our own lives and the life of the church fail to reflect the love and goodness we know in Christ.
Over the last few weeks, these themes of Lent have come close to me as I observed the Uniting Church’s appearance at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and wrestled with the challenges of change.
The Royal Commission has shown us how badly we failed to create environments that were safe for children to grow, learn and develop. We have been shown how poorly we responded to sexual abuse, refusing to believe children who reported their abuse, protecting the perpetrator. The Royal Commission is showing us how poorly we have lived as disciples of the One who brings wholeness of life.
At the conclusion of giving evidence before the Commission, UCA President Stuart McMillan again offered an apology to all who suffered child abuse in any part of the Uniting Church and acknowledged the ongoing impact of abuse on survivors. He also pledged we would strive to become a safer, more child-centred church that seeks to have policies and procedures reflecting what we have learnt from the Royal Commission. He repented.
Being physically present, seeing our practices scrutinised by the Royal Commission, forced me to confront again our sinfulness in a new way. The route to repairing our failures of discipleship must travel through acknowledgement of our sin and the seeking of ways to ensure such sin might not happen again. We travel with Christ who renews and makes new so that we might be more faithful, building communities that protect the vulnerable.
This is Lenten work that shapes our living in ordinary time.
We are in a period of change within the life of our synod. We are beginning to implement the resolutions of the last Synod in relation to the Major Strategic Review.
Change is often unsettling, causing many of us anxiety. It often results in a period of uncertainty where we know that what was no longer is but we cannot see clearly what new thing will emerge. This period between the ending of one way and the beginning of a new one can be both painful and life-giving. In times like this we must draw deeply on what sustains us as the church and as individual Christians.
The season of Lent reminds us that even as we journey to Jerusalem we encounter the gift of life in Jesus Christ. The call to follow Christ is a call to life.
Unfortunately, this does not provide a blueprint for what we should do as a synod at this time. What the Lenten season has offered me is an invitation to deepen my prayer life where I am reminded that God is faithful. I have been strengthened by the gathered community, where I am reminded that our shared faith binds us to each other. I have heard again and again that my worries, ego and weakness are transformed not through my own effort but by the grace of God who calls us all to new life.
These are the Lenten practices that sustain us by anchoring us to God through the sadness, hope, and uncertainty of change. They mould our hearts to presence of the Spirit day-in day-out, season-by-season.