When I was in seminary four decades ago, I spent part of Lent meditating on the life of Jesus. Over the period of those six weeks, I came to a new and deepened experience of Jesus, both as a real person, not just an ancient sage, and as the full son of God, not just a good man. That experience has shaped my prayer for over 40 years and has ordered my choices in life. I fell in love with the God who is revealed in the face of Jesus.
Br. Robert L’Esperance, SSJE, writes, “What attracts me to (the Gospel of) John’s Jesus is that he is an iconoclast who strikes at the very heart of those things we human beings want to cling to, yet which have absolutely nothing to do with the God that Jesus calls ‘Father.’ What does Jesus show us? Jesus shows us love.”
Every year since 1995, the College of Bishops make a retreat of several days with the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some of you might know them as the Cowley Fathers, an Anglican monastic order founded over 150 years ago, who had a monastery in Bracebridge and were responsible for the mission to much of Muskoka.
When you read this, we will have just returned from Boston. One of the Brothers guides us in a daily meditation, with a feedback discussion later that day. We join the Brothers in their meals and their pattern of worship, with the Eucharist and short services (the Divine Office) marking the transitional moments of each day – dawn, noon, dusk and night. The retreat is a time of reflection, silence, reading, walking and yes, some laughter and play. It is not a holiday, but it is recreation in the fullest sense: re-creation, renewing and rekindling the flame of faith and hope in the midst of busy lives. It is a chance to come to terms with life as we are living it, and recalibrating those parts that need it. It is both personal and communal as we explore privately our own soul and grow in our understanding of each other. It is a good Lenten practice that I have valued enormously (even if it rarely takes place in the season of Lent!)
But Lent is upon us early this year – Feb. 14 is Ash Wednesday. I wonder whether the Ash Wednesday fast will win out over St. Valentine’s Day chocolate. (I am not taking any bets!)
The traditional disciplines of Lent that are meant to prepare us not only for the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter but for the ongoing life as a Christian disciple. They are:
- Fasting and almsgiving
- Reading and meditating on the word of God
I want to commend to you one particular activity this Lent and ask that you join me in it. You can do it as an individual or, ideally, with a small group. The SSJE, in conjunction with Virginia Theological Seminary, have produced a Lenten program that we have chosen to use in the Diocese of Toronto this year. It is called “Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John.” Over a period of five, six or seven weeks, the program “invites us not only to learn about God, but also to enter into a loving and intimate relationship with God, in which God abides in us and we abide in God.”
Each week, a different aspect of this gospel’s message is considered:
- God is love.
- The Word became flesh.
- Close to the Father’s heart.
- I have called you friends.
- Abide in me.
- We declare to you.
There are a lot of resources available to help: a daily prayer journal, a daily short video, suggestions for prayer, online posts and blogs, free resources for study groups and individuals. They are available for download from www.meetingjesusinjohn.org. There is even an outline for a parish quiet day. Something for everyone.
I invite you to join me in this journey to Easter through Lent and “reflect on the person of Jesus, his mission and his message, as it is presented in the writings of John.” Draw closer to God and grow as an instrument of God’s love in the world.