Permanent Lent

by David Pattinson, Reader

Well Lent is over, and even Easter is Ascending!

But, I was recently talking to a wise Christian advisor, who commented that the Christian Life could be described as ‘Permanent Lent’. I am not sure that sounded particularly attractive – all that fasting; never to have chocolate again! My quizzical look must have been obvious, because there followed a helpful elaboration. “Well the Christian Life is a constant mix of “Repentance” and “The promise of New Life”.

It’s one of the statements that stick in the mind and you find yourself mulling it over and reflecting on it.

Repentance is a translation of the Greek word ‘metanoia’, which means a change of mind and heart, a change of outlook. But it’s a word with a number of connotations. You immediately think of “sackcloth and ashes” – not particularly attractive compared to the delights of Cavells on Mill Street. Gerard Hughes in his book “God of Surprises” has a really good chapter on Repentance entitled Changing Direction. It’s worth quoting one or two of his comments, because he talks about repentance in a more theatrical way; it’s about putting the spotlight on God not on ourselves – not easy with our flawed human nature. He says “Sin is the refusal to let God be God. Repentance is letting God be God in our lives”. And he agrees that this is a lifelong, continual process.

What struck me in Hughes’ chapter are his opening words. “When God in Christ says ‘Repent and believe the good news’, God is uttering an invitation not a threat. It is as though God is saying to us ‘Come and see what I want to give you, and you will find that it goes beyond your wildest dreams and imaginings’. That paints the picture of repentance as a much more positive experience. Maybe the idea of putting the spotlight on God is why I find Holy Week in Oakham such a positive experience – it helps me to do just that.

It’s much easier to relate to “the promise of new life”. It’s been wonderful to see the emerging growth of flower, bush and tree; to marvel again at the snowdrops and bluebells; to wonder how the bush that has taken a real battering over Winter still manages to bud and flower with new growth; to consider the tree lined drive with its trees regimented and bursting into blossom. Although it’s not quite so easy to do that in the depths of winter – or the depths of despair. But the Christian Life always bears “the promise of new life” – it’s a founding reality in Christ’s death and resurrection. The thought is captured in lines of a poem by RS Thomas entitled “Resurrection”.

Easter. The grave clothes of Winter
are still here but the sepulchre
is empty …….. .
…….. and a tree lightens
the darkness with its blossom.

Whatever our circumstances, that promise of new life remains a reality.

So, maybe “Permanent Lent” is not a bad description of the Christian. Life, but it is one of invitation, hope and triumph.

David Pattinson