Aelred's March 2006 Letter

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arbury park

Lencten - Lent - Spring

The North East wind is scouring the steppes of Cambridge at high speed and making journeys by two wheels an Arctic epic. It is good dry weather for the building consortiums who are landscaping and digging out the large area of spare land just half a mile to the west of me, along the Kings Hedges road that runs by my house from east to west along the city boundary. A large new housing estate is being planned - Cambridge is still growing. You can just see the container freight on the sky line of the long shot photo, speeding along the trunk road of the A14 which will be the boundary to the north of the estate. All traffic appears to need to be going at top speed in and out of Cambridge for some reason so the noise will have to be deflected for the new houses just beneath the A14. Apparently, in 1930, when the first Highway Code was introduced, there were twice as many road deaths as there are at present in the UK. So although it is hazardous cycling in the narrow roads of Cambridge with high speed traffic alongside you, there has been an improvement over the years!

Sheltered from the NE winds by my neighbour's high hedge, and my own fence, the hardy pink cyclamen stand up boldly, as if to say, 'It is not all that bad!' Spring is about a month ahead, strictly speaking, but it would be nice if there were a bit more warmth to encourage us. But lencten, the Old English for Lent, begins next Wednesday. So in 6 1/2 weeks time we shall arrive at Easter Day. For some time now the idea of Lent has exercised my mind. Those who knew us at Ewell will recognize that remark! Why?

In the first place, while everyone would agree that Jesus died 'once for all' and was raised by the Father, as the gospels tell us, it has become fashionable to celebrate these days before Easter as a time when, in Christian worship, the passion and death of Jesus seems almost not to have happened yet. We are journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem, there to celebrate the Lord's death. This means that we have to wait until the calendar date of Easter Day to celebrate the risen Lord. We go into 'mourning' literally or figuratively in sackcloth and ashes.

This view of things goes back at least to the fourth century church in Jerusalem, but probably no further - at least the evidence comes to us only from there. It was a part of the melodramatic view of liturgy which was beginning to take hold in the Middle East, chiefly in Jerusalem where pilgrims were beginning to come to pray at sites connected with Jesus.

Now this seems to me to be a serious misunderstanding of the gospel, as for instance preached by Paul, who said in his introduction to Romans,

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead ...

The gospels were all written from the point of view that the Jesus who is being described is the present, risen Lord.

While there is plenty of room for individuals to live lives of repentance all the year round - to turn from evil to live the good life - the church cannot afford to let up on the glory of the Lord who is with us, here and now. There is a misleading tradition that we should not sing 'alleluia' until Easter. That goes back only to the problematical times of the Vandal invasions in Italy in the 5th century when it was thought best to make Lent into a time of heart searching for all those devastating and terrible events.

So - Is it not better to celebrate the living Lord every day - from now onwards - unceasingly? - and with normal vesture? ie not in purple or sackcloth? - 'he is risen', they said at the tomb on Easter Day.

Greetings in Christ. This letter has grown 'lenctenly' - if our Saxon ancestors would recognize their word so misused!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

© Aelred Arnesen

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