In 2019 I was in Turkey for a wedding, and made time to visit Ephesus, where the ruins of Greek, Roman and Byzantine architecture are remarkably well preserved. it is quite remarkable walking down the ancient paved roads, standing in the huge amphitheatre where the Apostle Paul was brought before a crowd baying for his blood, and wandering the backstreets seeing mosaics, colourful murals and legal inscriptions still clearly carved on blocks of stone outside entrances to homes. Yet even as you walk down these majestic columned walkways it is hard not to think of the myriad slaves who laboured over the roads that they were not allowed to walk down themselves, or the terrible loss of life amongst slaves involved in building such intricate and ornately beautiful buildings. A place to admire or to weep over?
I confess to feeling somewhat similar about Lent. With it's echoes of the wilderness wanderings and the subsequent sojourn of Jesus himself as a necessary precursor to his public ministry,, it is easy to see how appropriate it was as a time of preparation for adults seeking baptism in the early church, particularly in those places where proclaiming Jesus as your Lord and Saviour pitted you against the might of the Roman Empire.
Such a contrast to my own childhood (and confused) memories of Lent where I was made to feel unworthy of God's love and grace, and desperately needed to do things that might earn His favour, particularly if it was about doing good to others. Lent therefore was a very nervy time - what if I wasn't good enough, or what if I didn't do enough? Would God's anger be turned against me?
It is why I find the verses at beginning of Romans 8so helpful for me as I enter into Lent. I need that reassurance that I have been set from from the law of sin and death and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. More than that, the Spirit of God gives us life, so as I think about how to spend time in Lent I am not worried or concerned that I may get it wrong. Rather, set free from fear, I can set aside more time in service or prayer or preparation, knowing that what I can do could make a real difference to others, but won't alter God's love, mercy and grace towards me.