Well, here we are once again on the cusp of Lent – traditionally a season of penitential preparation for the great feast of Easter; 40 days of self-discipline with the promise of a party at the end of it.
Except, of course, that this year is different. This year, we approach Lent having already been subjected to a period of almost unyielding restraint and self-denial. We have been deprived of so much that for so long we took for granted: the freedom to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted; to enjoy unhesitatingly the company of family and friends; to shake hands, hug, be at ease with one another. As Christian people we have been permitted to “assemble and meet together” (at least after the rigours of the first lockdown were eased), but our offering of worship has been muted by the needs to keep safe. We have been socially distanced, separated from one another, masked; no sharing of the peace, no common cup, no after-service fellowship or coffee (who thought we could mourn the church coffee?!) and, possibly worst of all, no singing. For all the beautiful music offered by our Cathedral choir and other musicians, Christmas without carols felt (at least to me) an especially harsh deprivation.
And it feels like such a long haul now – indeed we are fast approaching a year of life under Covid, and we are all wearied of it. Like Narnia in CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it feels as if this winter of the soul will never end. Well, of course, like all things, this will pass. The programme of vaccinations is beginning to pick up pace and maybe by Easter, life will be that bit easier; the “thaw” will be underway, the spring will come and we may begin to breathe again.
In the story of Narnia, it is the return to life of the great Lion, Aslan, after a cruel death, that breaks the power of the White Witch and ushers in the end of Winter. CS Lewis is of course writing an allegory of the Christian story and the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So as we brace ourselves for Lent, that extraordinary hope stands before us as a guiding light. New life will come – for our Church, for our society, for our world. It may not look like the old normal – and perhaps that’s a good thing – but God’s unconquerable love is offered to us all.
So may we embrace the challenge of this coming Lent, and not see it as an unbearable continuation of what has been but a time to hope, pray and reflect on how, under God, things might be and (by his grace) shall be.
May he richly bless you this Lent.
The Very Revd Christopher Dalliston
Dean of Peterborough