In one of his sermons at the University Church in Oxford, where he was the Vicar, John Henry Newman highlighted three markers that help us recognise the value of Lent and the miracle of Easter.
First, he called upon his parishioners to recognise that “many lives are blighted by sins unconfessed and unabsolved”. How many of us carry the burden of mistakes, failures or wilful selfishness that we have not really owned – just tried to put to one side, or move on from? Psychologists, let alone spiritual guides, know that these kind of negative factors remain as powerful undercurrents. One of the challenges and tragedies of our time is the tendency to live as though sin was not real – the key emphasis is confidence and improvement. Negatives are regrettable, but to be conquered by our own personal momentum.
The miracle of Easter includes the dynamic that honesty with ourselves, including our failures and sins, is the only way of becoming open to the grace of forgiveness and the new start that resurrection can bring.
Newman’s second point was that personal faith and experience becomes selfishness unless it is placed in a wider framework. The glad acknowledgement that each of us can only thrive if we are part of a community. Wholeness for each individual is only found and experienced through participation in a Holy Communion.
The miracle of Easter is that broken, imperfect lives can be bound together into the Body of Christ. A Holy Communion which supports the self not just now, but into eternity.
Newman’s final observation was to highlight that “England was dominated by an appetite for wealth and power”. Perhaps even more the case today than in the middle of the nineteenth century when he was preaching.
The miracle of Easter invites our ambition to be for the wellbeing of others, especially those in need, as a sign of how God’s new life is tasted together on earth, as it will be in heaven. The Easter people of the Resurrection gathered to look outwards into the needs and hopes of others. We call this mission.
A powerful framework for our thoughts and prayers in Lent, as we prepare to recognise once again the miracle of Easter.
The Bishop of Derby