A little pre-Lent ramble

Today’s reading at the morning Eucharist was Mark 7.1-13.

I can’t think of an instance in the gospels when the Pharisees would have come away from a conversation with Jesus thinking, ‘That went well, I think we really convinced him this time.’  And they try so hard, so very hard, to get it right, and they always miss what’s right in front of them.

Today, this reading comes across not as a last Alleluia before the fast begins, but perhaps more as a comment on Lent itself and how we keep it.  It reminds us that the whole point of the law when it was given was to give another way, alongside all the many other gifts and self-revelations of God through the centuries, for us to ‘learn to be God’s people once again.’

It invites us to think about how whatever Lenten discipline we’ve chosen to undertake is going to help us draw closer to God – and warns us against anything that might inadvertently become an end in itself and so drive a wedge between us and God.

It took the ancient Israelites 40 years – a whole lifetime – to learn to be God’s people, and they still kept getting it wrong, just as we do. The law that was given to them during this time at Sinai was supposed to help, but in every generation since, God’s people have done as the gospel’s Pharisees tend to do, and made the law into a thing in itself, rather than as a way of learning to be People of God. All that time in the wilderness, trying to work out how to do it right, and all along, through the visceral and dramatic pillars of fire and cloud, and through the daily gift of manna from heaven, God was right there with them, inviting his beloved children to trust him, to draw up a chair at his table, sit and eat.

The poor Pharisees in the gospel reading are in a similar boat. They try so hard to get it right, and all the time they’re missing what’s right in front of them: Jesus’ friends, with their unwashed hands, are drawing up a chair every day and sitting down to eat with God.  I pray that when the last judgement comes, all who tried so hard, yet missed the point, will be confronted with the raw love and generosity and hospitality of God that says, ‘Sit, and eat’, and finally reply, ‘Thank you, I’d love to’.

This Lent, I pray that whatever we ‘do’ may be a way to draw closer, to become God’s people once again, whether that process takes 40 days or 40 years. I pray that it will be a time when we can hear God’s invitation and respond by drawing our chair closer – in worship, work, leisure, and rest – and enjoy table fellowship with our Lord.

Love Life Live Lent Monday Week 3 – Say thank you

Having tweeted about the fact that we said a hearty thank you for our food at lunchtime, at the ecumenical Lent Study Lunch – and that the thank you was particularly heartfelt because we benefit from soup and bread made by one of our lay ministers, who happens to be a cordon bleu cook – I now have to confess that I was so late for the lunch that I missed it (both the thank you and the food itself).

As it happens I’d also missed breakfast, and only got back home after running from meeting to meeting all day at 7pm, so by that time I was pretty hungry.  My ‘thank you’ to God for curry in the freezer and a microwave to heat it up was heartfelt, and made up for the fact that I was too late to meet the rest of the family at McDonalds….

But being hungry today, even for a short time, reminded me, as it always does (fasting is something I find helpful, so I do fast regularly) that in the Western world we don’t experience hunger very often. Mostly we eat because it is a meal time, rather than because we are hungry.  We eat out of habit, or for comfort, or because we are bored, or because the people around us are eating and we feel we have to eat with them in order to be polite.

But eating simple food when you’re genuinely hungry or having a drink when you’re genuinely thirsty that is one of the greatest pleasures we can experience.  I remember going for a long morning walk in the hills in the south of France and returning to the village where we were staying just as the sun was highest in the sky – the local people, in the middle of picking the peach harvest, saw how hot and sweaty we were, and threw fruits to us as we ambled past, and I think those peaches were quite possibly a foretaste of heaven.

The food for which we are most grateful is often not the most expensive, or the most elaborate, but rather the food that is given to us when we are most in need. During Lent we remember the story of the People of God in the wilderness, learning to trust God for their every need, through the provision of their daily ‘angel bread’, the manna from heaven. It is when we experience need that we are most likely to learn gratitude, but if we can remember what that feels like, perhaps every mealtime can be one that makes us want to say ‘thank you.’