The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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      3rd March 2019
Vicar's Letter for March 2019
Jeremy Fletcher

Vicar’s Letter for March 2019

As I type, this time last year we were well into Lent. Easter moves about because it (and the Jewish festival of Passover) is based on the cycle of the moon, whereas Christmas stays fixed because it depends on the sun. There have been arguments for giving Easter a fixed point. For the moment we move from the very early Easter of 2018 to the late one of 2019. 

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, March 6. There will be many opportunities to use this 40 day period (together with its Sundays) to establish or re-establish patterns of prayer, lifestyle and action. This has been a feature of the Christian life from the earliest days of the church, when Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness were used as an example of giving up everything that would hinder his public ministry, struggling with everything that could lead him off the path he was called to follow, and taking on the patterns which would sustain his relationship with his Father. 

At its simplest level, Lent is a good time to give up something on which you know you rely, or just do without thinking. Each time you reach out a hand or turn your mind to that thing, knowing you have given it up is a reminder of your dependence on God alone. I’m not so sure that giving up something for vanity’s sake is really in the Lenten spirit though – more of a temptation in itself. And Lent is a good time to take on a habit that will deepen your spiritual life. It has been interesting to observe secular versions of this, like “dry January”. Giving yourself a specific period to do, or not do, something, is now part of wider culture. 

So what might you do? Taking time each day to stop, reflect, read the Bible and pray, would be a good start. The Church of England is offering new resources for this. “Lent Pilgrim” is a 40 day series of reflections based on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, available in booklet form and as an app for smartphones. The booklets are available in church, and we will be using the reflections at Morning and Evening Prayer in church. Another discipline you could take on is to come to one of those services, at 9 or 5 Monday to Saturday in the Lady Chapel. 

Lent is also a time to study together. Churches Together in Hampstead offers study groups for the six weeks of Lent, and this year will be using the Church of England’s “Pilgrim” material. We will be looking at the Creeds, and there will be daytime and evening groups from the week beginning March 10. Sign up sheets will be in church from Sunday March 3. 

Another Lent discipline is to make worshipping together a priority, and perhaps to come to a service you are unfamiliar with. Our normal pattern continues, with one exciting addition. On the Sundays of Lent in March there will be a service of Compline at 9.30 pm, in the choir stalls. Compline is the ancient night prayer of the church, the last words before the day ended. The service will be reflective, and will last around 20 minutes.

It will be for the April Magazine to elaborate on Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter. But please put in your diaries a series of events including the Junior Church Passion Play and the Bach St Matthew Passion on Sunday April 7, The Narrow Road, a passion play performed by the Riding Lights Theatre Company on Tuesday April 9, and the Dream of the Rood, an Anglo Saxon poem about the Cross, read In translation!) on Saturday April 13 and Tuesday April 16, leading into Palm Sunday and Holy Week. 

There is every opportunity then to pursue what the prayer calls “a holy Lent”. I, like you, have had a little longer in 2019 to get ready for it. I hope you’ll join me in making the most of all it offers.

Jeremy Fletcher

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