Lent Sunday 5C
When Abbot, now Bishop, Erik Varden reflects on his initial conversion experience beginning with the sight of a homeless man on his own doorstep, he is so disturbed by his feelings of anger and resentment as a supposed Christian that he takes a walk around the block to compose himself – or as I said in that first Lenten homily, to be composed by another, by the Christ, by the Spirit, by the God without whom we cannot be composed, at peace, at one with ourselves and with our neighbour. This sense of disturbance at being disturbed should disturb us all – for we all have the seeds of destruction, of violence, of murderous impulses within us whether directed at others or ourselves. This too is a deeply Freudian insight, the flip-side of that fear of death mentioned last week. We are walking time bombs but mostly we don’t know it, or own it; we find ways of avoiding it instead through our many distractions or our supposedly civilised manner of behaviour – a cultured indifference to our own shortcomings ending in a comforting projection of these fears and feelings onto others ‘out there’. The Pharisees and Scribes are doing it with Jesus and the woman caught in adultery; the writers of so much of our religious history do it when detailing how God has saved us from our ‘enemies’ – all those angry psalms relishing the fate of the Egyptians, and we do it in our present desire to see other traditions or faiths bested by Christianity. What has disturbed me in recent weeks has been not only the war in Ukraine but the relish I myself have taken in all those destroyed tanks and the reversal, for the moment, of Putin’s plan of attack – forgetting the horror of the human beings losing their lives through such violence. It’s disturbing, this primal war that goes on within us no matter how advanced we may think we are in the religious life. The buttons are all still there waiting to be pressed.
And this is Lent understood not as an exercise in exorcising our devils by killing our enemies but by coming to terms with them in Christ, by recognising our helplessness in the face of our basic drives and instincts, all those temptations we fail to master, or rather imagine that we have mastered but quite like thinking about all the same – that examination of other people’s wrongs, that grumbling at the injustice done to ourselves, that toying with passions which never see the light of day, that holding on to faith as an object to be believed in to set against other beliefs rather than as a way of living – a way of trusting God in our helplessness before our desire to condemn.
If there is one of you who has not sinned let him (or her) be the first to throw a stone
This is Lent in a nutshell – the examination of our helplessness.