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Lenten Pastoral Letter 2024 Image

Lenten Pastoral Letter 2024

March 22, 2024

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad . . .

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose … and a highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:1-9).

March 16, 2024

Dear Friends,

As the Lenten season draws to its culmination, our reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word intensifies. Our Church’s discipline in the Word intensifies in proportion to the weightiness and focused intensity of the Gospel narrative of Christ’s Passion. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we shall hear Scriptures appointed each day for Holy Communion which, taken as a whole, go through the entire Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to a continuous reading of all four Gospel accounts in their canonical order. They’re all long and demanding readings. On Good Friday, our service is three hours, commemorating those three hours during our Lord’s crucifixion when the sun was darkened; we will go through all of Morning Prayer, the Litany, Ante-Communion, and Evening Prayer, spending much of that time either in reading the appointed Scriptures, or in silent meditation upon them. Why should we come to Church this Holy Week, to do this, to subject ourselves to all this? Why put ourselves through this? Why the unrelenting reading of these Scriptures? Isn’t it all too much, excessive? It’s not as though we haven’t heard the story many times before. Yet we come to hear it all again, as if for the first time. No detail of Jesus’ being betrayed, disowned, and abandoned by his own is left out; no detail of Jesus’ agony, his being falsely accused, unjustly condemned, scourged, mocked, crucified, and crying out in God-forsakenness is omitted. Why?

Looking upon the Crucified One, we shall finally behold the Word made flesh. In seeing him nailed to the cursed tree, we come to see how it is our own sins that nailed him there. We see him there in our place. What Christ willingly suffers in his flesh is the terrible consequence of our sin. Thus can St Paul so strikingly describe Christ as “being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:13). His Cross and Passion is the most profound experience of the curse, the wilderness of all wildernesses, in the depths of human misery, in alienation from God. Yet through this one man who takes upon himself the burden of our curse, God makes good his promised blessing. For by his Cross, the Apostle declares, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” This is the whole saving mystery of Christian faith. Jesus died in our place, as a substitution for us sinners, and only so is he revealed as the power of God and the wisdom of God. Christ by his death has overcome death, so that from his death comes new, resurrection life: extreme barrenness and desolation gives way to foliage and blossom beyond all compare. The exquisite Passiontide hymn by Fortunatus (c. 569 AD) perceives the triumph of life over death which the Gospel proclaims:

Faithful Cross, thou sign of triumph,

Now for man the noblest Tree,

None in foliage, none in blossom,

None in fruit thy peer can be;

Symbol of the world’s redemption,

For the weight that hung on thee!

Christ’s death and resurrection fulfills what the Prophet Isaiah foretold: “the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose … and a highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:1-9). The wilderness of the Cross is transformed into the paradisal Tree of Life. No Good Friday without Easter, and no Easter without Good Friday. If this is true for Christ, it is true also for us. So on Holy Saturday shall we pray for grace, that “by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, the gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection.” Such is the way of holiness, which depends always only on the merits and death of Jesus Christ and through faith in his blood.

But how is this truth of the Gospel authoritative for us, so that it commands our very being, so that we are converted and live by the obedience of faith? How are we to be evangelized, renewed, and transformed by these teachings? How are the words, which we hear with our outward ears, to be grafted inwardly in our hearts, so that they may bring forth in us the fruit of good living?

For Anglicans, shaped as we are by the evangelical doctrine of the Reformation, there is simply no substitute for the reading and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. The barren desert of our own hearts is made fruitful only by the saving doctrine contained in God’s holy Word. That is the reason we submit ourselves to the laborious discipline of reading the Passion narratives in Holy Week—so that in hearing, reading, and learning the Word, we might believe unto eternal life. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, architect of our Book of Common Prayer, writes in his homily, “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture”: “there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in God, that so much keepeth up innocency and pureness of the heart, and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and recording of God’s word. . . . And moreover, the effect and virtue of God’s word is, to illuminate the ignorant, and to give more light unto them, that faithfully and diligently read it, to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to perform that, which of God is commanded. . . . And to be short, there is nothing that more maintaineth godliness of the mind, and driveth away ungodliness, than doeth the continual reading or hearing of God’s word, if it be joined with a godly mind, and a good affection, to know and follow God’s will.” What marvelous trust and confidence in the power of God’s Word to have its way with us!

God’s Word is living and active, and effectively accomplishes his will: to sanctify us, to turn our souls that we may live, to make us wise unto salvation. Our confidence in the Word really comes down to one thing: that it is God’s Word, and not the word of any other. Hence our abiding in the Word involves grace bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit in us. Our Lord Jesus teaches the same: only by abiding in his Word, by hearing that Word and keeping it, can we be his disciples (John 8:31-end). In no other way can we learn Christ, and follow his way; thus shall even our troubles, sorrows, and confusions be blessed, and thus shall he sanctify to us our deepest distress.

I encourage each of you prayerfully to consider your participation in the Holy Week services. Come to immerse yourself in the reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word, to find yourself in Christ. Come to the foot of the Cross, to be transformed by the power of God and the Wisdom of God. Enclosed is a schedule of services for Holy Week and Easter, a financial update from our treasurer, and an envelope for your Easter offering.

Under the Mercy,

Fr Benjamin+

On the Eve of Passion Sunday