I have recently returned from a wonderful and refreshing holiday on that “gem of God’s Earth” – the Isle of Man, which has been a favourite holiday destination for more than 40 years, and where I have served as a priest.
I got back home just before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, and my break really did seem like a preparation for the 40 days of self-examination and turning to God, which continues through all this month as we draw near to Holy Week and Easter.
The Island is always a place that excites and challenges me, with its glorious views, its rich heritage, and the unpredictability of everyday life. It appeals to me as one who is fascinated by Celtic spirituality, which forces you to be at home on the boundaries, on the margins, where things aren’t that comfortable or secure – not a bad place to think about the demands of the Lenten journey.
One of the themes of Lent in our Bible readings is that of being called out, and we must surely think of being called away from what we find comfortable, called to the places where Jesus meets people, daring to accept a call to a more dangerous way of living, something that always becomes real to me as I watch the waves of the Irish Sea crashing onto the rugged shore and see the contrasts of Manx life.
The greatest obstacle when we are called by God to follow His Way is ourselves – our unwillingness to change or to break away from the things that fasten us to the past. One of the greatest themes of Lent has always been the call to repentance, to turn aside from those things in the past that are wrong and stand in the way of our full commitment to Christ, the willingness to go into the wilderness and have new encounters with the living God.
Christ calls us to take up our crosses daily, and that is never going to be an easy option. We are called to follow Jesus to the bitter end before we can even taste the new beginning, away from the comfortable, away from the safety nets.
But we are never called to go it alone. We are called to be His, called out to be His people and to do His will. Called out to live in His strength alone. And there is nothing to fear.
In the words of Stuart Townend’s great hymn:
In Christ alone my heart is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I’ll stand.
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
As we follow Christ through these days of Lent and share in His passion, let us truly be willing to share the experience with Him, knowing not just the pain but also His great love and power.