Pastoral Letter from the Rector.
“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness.”
On 11 February 1990 the eyes of the world were fixed on the gates of a prison in Cape Town, South Africa. Through those gates was to walk the most famous prisoner in the world — Nelson Mandela. As he stepped forward, those who witnessed the event on countless television screens knew that this was a momentous occasion. Not only was a man being freed; a whole nation was being released from a form of imprisonment. Mandela was no longer a young man, but his mission to lead his nation was only just beginning. Within a few short years he would move from a prison cell to the presidential residence as he, with many others, forged a new South Africa.
This transformation was no work of a moment; rather it was the fruit of many long years of preparation. While imprisoned on the notorious Robben Island he, together with other leading prisoners, established a university of sorts for the political prisoners. In this wilderness of the body and heart they created an environment wherein debate, learning and preparation for their future political leadership flourished. To achieve the vision of a multi-racial South Africa would require political savvy as well as optimism, and the preparations were under way for many years on the tiny island a few miles away from the splendours of Table Mountain and Cape Town.
Having been baptised by John in the Jordan, Jesus is driven into the wilderness before beginning his mission. This turning point in the life of Jesus was the fruit of a lifetime of preparation. As a faithful Jew, he had grown up observing the Law and living a life of ritual purity. Going to synagogue, studying the scriptures and learning the ways of faith were part and parcel of his daily life. Even the baptism of John — and it may be difficult for us to understand why Jesus would submit to this — was another expression of the ritual washings he undertook many times as part of his daily life.
At the baptism and the testing in the wilderness we have a sense that something is changing dramatically. Having lived a “quiet life” until this point, Jesus is coming to terms with the fact of who he is and what he is about. The “beloved Son” finds himself in the desert. This testing ground is where he comes to terms with his identity and his task — it becomes the place of transformation and empowerment. John has been silenced, but into this silence a new voice cries out. Jesus bursts out of the desert, energised for his mission. “Repent, and believe the Good News!” His mission is not simply a proclamation: it is a transformation — it is liberation.
We have had a lifetime of preparation for our own mission. Even now our mission in Christ can call us into new territory and situations; however, we have all that we need for this journey. Our worship, especially our celebrations of the Eucharist, our listening to the word of God in scripture, our daily prayer routine and our learning together in groups have all prepared us for this time of commissioning by the Lord. Lent is sometimes described as the ‘desert time’ in the Church’s year — this desert time can be for us an opportunity to reflect, like Jesus, on who we are and why we are here. It takes time and energy to absorb the reality of the Christian vision: that we are children of God called to announce in word and deed the favour of the Lord.
During this desert time we turn to God and seek renewal in heart, mind and body through the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These tools equip us for effective ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. To make a truly lasting difference to the world, we need to be prepared and equipped with the Gospel that we will announce to others. Co-operating with the Spirit and spending time being tested in the harsh terrain of the wilderness is a challenge for us. Yet responding to this challenge will allow us truly to turn away from sin and towards the living God. Responding to this challenge will allow God to effect a lasting transformation in our hearts and minds. Responding to this challenge will empower us to burst forth from the silence of prayer into the joyful proclamation of the gracious love of the Father revealed in Jesus the Christ.
May this Lent be a time of growth and renewal for you.