Rev. Roger Hull is Parish Associate at Windsor Presbyterian
is the first Sunday in Lent, the period of forty days
beginning Ash Wednesday and ending on the Saturday
before Easter (excepting Sundays). The word
is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon word lencten meaning
Spring, or lengthening of days.
the Jan-Feb 2002 issue of Presbyterians Today, our denominational magazine
which some of you may receive, there is a wonderful
article by Brad Kent (a former student of Howard
Rice!) entitled: "Beneath the Celtic Cross
of Jesus." I wonder how many of you may have
seen it? (This sermon is based on my edited version
of this article with direct quotes. If you have
it, read it first). As Kent writes: "A brief
meandering into Celtic Christianity begins beneath its
most recognizable symbol, the ancient stone crosses
that mark Scottish and Irish country sides... These
crosses unite the two touchstones of Celtic spirituality:
creation and salvation. The circle represents
God the creator. The cross, of course, is Christ's
cross, the symbol of our salvation."
summers ago, my wife, Judy and I, had the privilege
of visiting the Isle of Iona off the Western Coast of
Scotland. Some of you may also have been there.
Sir George MacLeod, a Glasgow inner city Pastor,
and the founder of the Iona Community, was influential
in reviving an interest in Celtic Christianity. He
saw no separation between the sacred and the secular
and worked out a "spirituality of engagement"
with the world, rather than disengagement, combining
the mystical, political and economic. His vision
in 1938 of rebuilding the ancient Abby of Iona, where
Christianity was first bought to the unruly Scots, was
to give employment to the unemployed laborers of his
parish. Kent, in his article, offers several characteristics
of this engaged, Celtic spirituality, and then offers
a series of suggested spiritual practices for enriching
our Lenten Season. Let me share them with you.
Earth is Alive with the Glory of God
All Creation is alive with the presence of God.
"Perhaps the most distinctive feature of
Celtic Christianity is its affinity with nature. (Iona
is an absolutely stunning island, where the line between
God and the world is what MacLeod called 'tissue thin'.)
The Celts enthusiastically affirmed the psalmist's
declaration, 'The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims (God's) handiwork' (Psalm
19:1). The Celts believed that all creation is
alive with God's presence. Because God's Spirit
dwells in all living things, everything is inherently
good... Every moment, every location could therefore
become a time and place for encountering God.
a Celtic Lent: "Celebrate the wonder of creation.
Plant a flower and watch it grow. Take time
each day to sense the changes taking place, even those
changes you cannot see. Do what is necessary to
nurture its growth. Marvel at the wonder of Creation
and give thanks to God for the gift of life.
Armour of God
God's good creation has been corrupted by evil.
"The Celts were not naive about the perniciousness
of sin. Evil was an invading army that had to
be driven out. Protection was needed. St.
Paul tells us to "put on the whole armor of God"
(Ephesians 6:11), so through prayer Celts 'bound' to
themselves spiritual breastplates, called Loricas, to
reassure them of divine protection. With the right
arm outstretched they would turn sunward making a full
circle as they recited St. Patrick's famous cairn or
be with me, Christ within me
behind me, Christ before me,
beside me, Christ to win me,
to comfort and restore me,
beneath me, Christ above me,
in quiet, Christ in danger,
in hearts of all that love me,
in mouth of friend and stranger'.
a Celtic Lent: "Be aware of the evil that
corrupts creation around you. As you face each
day this week, recite Patrick's cairn, or write one
of your own. Know that you are sheltered by divine
love and grace. As you face any challenge or crisis,
remind yourself that Christ is with you and within you,
and that nothing can separate you from God's love.
Image of God
Salvation is the restoration of goodness. "For
the Celts salvation was the restoration of original
goodness. What had been covered needed to be uncovered.
What had been lost needed to be found. This
finding and uncovering was the work of Jesus, who came
to banish evil and restore creation's goodness. God's
Spirit was fully present in Jesus, and the gracefulness
of his life, makes our restoration possible. As
Jesus healed the sick and forgave sinners, he restored
the divine image in us. Once again we can all
live as God's sons and daughters. Knowing that
they were God's sons and daughters and were given the
grace to live that way, the Celts understood their goal
was to become more and more like Jesus in their own
life and work.
a Celtic Lent: "Think of yourself as being
created in the image of God. How does it feel
to know that you too are God's beloved child, that God's
spirit is within you? What is covering up that
image, choking that Spirit in your life. What
needs to happen to uncover, to revive it, in you this
Life in Intertwined
"All life is intertwined. "The
most prevalent of all Celtic symbols is the Celtic knot.
Found on their crosses, jewelry, and manuscripts,
the knot symbolizes how all things in heaven and earth
are intricately intertwined and inseparable. The
relationship of the members of the Trinity, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit, is the prime illustration of interconnection.
Life in this world is intertwined with life in
the world beyond this one. The communion of the
saints was a vibrant reality for the Celts, who believed
that those who died remained present to them. Only
a thin, permeable membrane separates those living on
earth and those living in heaven. This was especially
true of the risen Christ, whom the Celts believed is
not only at God's right hand but also at ours. Even
though God can be encountered anywhere, there are also
certain 'thin places' like Iona, (or Sonoma County),
where this happens most easily.
a Celtic Lent: "Is there a 'thin place' in
your life where God is particularly present to you?
Visit or plan to visit a special spot in your
home or work that can be this for you. Go their
daily to experience intimacy with God.
"God is encountered in the ordinary. "Like
the ancient Hebrews, the Celts were earthy people who
led simple lives. Believing God was involved in
all ordinary events of their lives, they prayed constantly
asking God to bless whatever they were doing. They
had no hesitation in asking God to bless them with successful
crops, good food and drink, safe homes and warm fires,
and even good sex. These prayers often asked for
a particular grace for the one praying as evidenced
in this prayer accompanying the kindling of the hearth
in the morning: 'Kindle in my heart within a fire
of love for my neighbor. May the light of love
shine out to my foe, my friend and my kindred.'
a Celtic Lent: "Surround the routine things
of your life with a prayer. As much as possible
follow Paul's advice to 'pray constantly,' lifting each
thing you do and each person you meet to God for blessing.
Bless your children as they leave for school, your colleagues
as they work, other commuters on the road. Say
a blessing each day for one of the common, everyday
things in your life, and ask that as you are blessed,
you may in turn be a blessing" to all you come
in contact with this Lent, as the days lengthen into
God, your Son fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are but did not sin. Give
us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your
Spirit, that as you know our weakness, we may know
your power to save; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen." (Prayer of
the Day, First Sunday in Lent. Book of Common Worship
for the Presbyterian Church, USA).