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Alfred Dunholm

Special service for Lent and Japan

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First off please accept my sincere apologies for my recent absence; life has a way of obstructing even our best intentions and I've not had enough time to conduct the kind of service which is required. Ironic then that Lent is a time for contemplating our vocation and what our faith means to us when I have begun by saying that I've lacked the time for just such contemplation. More on Lent in a few moments.

 

First off I'm sure I speak for all of us here when I say that the images of this weekend's disasters in Japan have shocked and terrified me, nothing humbles our human pride more than feeling as helpless as we do now when faced with such vast destruction. Watching the footage of the collapsing buildings, the great flood and now the possible nuclear disaster I wanted nothing more than to reach out a hand to those poor people, but such is the folly of our modern technology that our anguish can't permit us to even hold someone who has lost their whole life in an instant. Donating money to the various appeals is of course helpful in the long term, but it does nothing to ease our feelings of wanting so desperately to help but being unable to even lift a finger in assistance. All that is left to us is to throw ourselves at the feet of the Lord God Almighty in the hope that he might heed our anxiety and reach into the lives of those whom we cannot touch.

 

Merciful and everlasting God, as we see with our own eyes the terror and the suffering under which the people of Japan now suffer we pray that you would intervene where we cannot. Comfort those who have lost jobs, houses, family, friends, pets, possessions, everything. Be with them in this, their hour of greatest need, and show forth the compassion which we feel so strongly in our hearts but cannot show forth ourselves. We pray also for those who are in a position to actively help, for the armed forces of Japan, the emergency services, the aid workers, the nurses and doctors, and more than anything for those individuals who of their own accord are struggling against the greatest of tragedies but are finding still the strength to put one foot in front of another in their great effort to help their fellow man. May this resolve to do right by those whom we don't even know be an inspiration to us all, and may we show forth this love and compassion in our own lives. All of these things we ask in the name of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Now, although our hearts perhaps desire to linger on the thoughts of what is unfolding on those islands even at this very seocnd, we shall move onto the topic of Lent.

 

Lent is, particularly for those of us who follow a Roman Catholic or Anglican tradition, a time in which we look inwards upon ourselves. Our Lord Jesus Christ fasted and struggled in the desert for 40 days to resist the earthly temptations which we all face each day, this episode is summed up in the Gospel according to St Matthew, chapter 4:

 

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

 

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

 

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

 

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

Obviously for many of us it isn't practical to physically go into the desert, and unlike Jesus we would be unlikely to be confront by the devil himself, but in our lives we can simulate this spiritual determination in a small way. This is why many Christians choose to "give something up" for the 40 days leading up to Easter, in the same way Jesus resisted the devil so people chose to resist things such as chocolate, not quite on the same scale but a sacrefice none the less. For my part my Lent hasn't been quite as dramatic this year as in previous years as I'm unfortunately medically advised against anything too extreme having hospitalised myself last year, but even the smallest of things can be virtuous during this season. Even if you only give up something like chocolate gives us a trigger in our day when, haivng presumably narrowly escaped the temptation of a particularly pleasant looking biscuit or similar, we can think of that period when Jesus saw-off the devil in the wilderness so many years ago.

 

Almighty God,

whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,

and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:

give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;

and, as you know our weakness,

so may we know your power to save;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Let us conclude this service with a Motet which i feel sums up both the feelings of Lent, and also hint at the emotional agony of the events which continue to unfold in Japan.

 

Drop, drop, slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet, which brought from Heaven the news and Prince of Peace.

 

Cease not, wet eyes, his mercies to entreat; to cry for vengeance sin doth never cease.

 

In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears; nor let his eye see our sin, but through my tears.

William Walton (1902-1983)

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