Towards Lent with Images of Grace - Amy Scott Robinson
Did you know that you have already experienced the earliest Easter you will ever know? At least, you have if you are aged over 14. In 2008, Easter fell on March 23rd, which will not happen again until 2160. The earliest possible date for Easter to fall is a day earlier, March 22nd, but that is even rarer and will not happen again until 2285.
By my calculations, if Easter did fall on March 22nd, then Ash Wednesday would mark the start of Lent only two days after Candlemas. Now that would feel like whiplash, considering that I only pack away the nativity scene at Candlemas! Even this year’s Ash Wednesday of February 22nd feels hot on the heels of our last celebration of Jesus as an infant.
Yet the story (Luke 2:22-38) that we tell at Candlemas - elderly Simeon singing the Nunc Dimittis as he holds the baby Jesus in his arms - is full of the resonance of the events of Lent and Easter. Simeon somehow saw salvation in Jesus. Before Jesus had performed any miracle, before he had spoken any teaching or parable, Simeon knew that the very fact of the presence of this baby meant that his eyes had seen God’s salvation (Luke 2:30). In his prophecy to Mary, Simeon mentioned the sword that would pierce her soul ‘too’ (Luke 2:35), perhaps already picturing a sword that would pierce Jesus’ side.
In these days, I feel like Simeon: still holding Jesus as a baby, wondering at the mystery of his incarnation, but already looking ahead to his passion and death as I prepare for Lent. This year, having led an Advent course based on my book Image of the Invisible, I’m turning to Images of Grace, my new Lent book, to prepare a retreat.
Often, in life as well as in scripture, we look back only to find God looking forward. An example: as I neared the end of writing the Lent book, I visited St Mary's church in Bury St Edmunds to find a half-remembered memorial stone that I wanted to quote as part of a section about Jesus’ tomb. It took quite an adventure, and a helpful and persistent guide, to locate the stone, which can only be seen from a particular height and angle in the North aisle. I was able to photograph it, and I went home with my prize and duly wrote the inscription into the book.
At the other end of the same year, my husband applied for a new post and is now the vicar at St Mary’s. I can glance up at that memorial every Sunday, but I have rather fallen in love with some different words, found up with the carved wooden angels on the roof. The words come from the family motto of John Baret, one of the church’s medieval donors: ‘Grace me governe, God me gyde’.
As I go into Lent preparing to talk about images of grace, and thinking about God’s foresight and guidance in leading us to our new home, I cannot think of a better maxim. As we speed through the seasons of liturgy and of life, may we always be governed by grace; and may God, who inevitably sees around the next corner, be our eternal guide.
Image of Simeon and Anna used with attribution and thanks to: gospelimages.com/paintings/87/simeon-and-anna