Grace and peace to you this day.
Thank you for joining this service for the First Sunday in Lent.
As we were reminded a few days ago on Ash Wednesday, each year on the greatest feast day of Easter – the Feast of the Resurrection, Christians around the world celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the Christ of God.
Lent is a time of spiritual preparation that we undertake as we journey toward the glorious celebrations of Easter. I pray that we will be quite intentional is observing a holy Lent
- • by examining our lives and seeking to follow the will of God as did our Lord Jesus;
- • through acknowledging our brokenness and our need for the wholeness that comes only from God;
- • by taking time apart from the busyness of our lives to spend time in quiet and prayer
- • through acts of giving ourselves for the well-being of others
- • and by reading and meditating on God word
As we begin our journey to Easter, let us come before our Creator and Redeemer. Come, let us worship.
REFLECTION – PART 1
The Judean wilderness is a foreboding place.
Going back so many years now to the first full day I was in Israel participating in a programme at St. George’s College, Jerusalem entitled “The Palestine of Jesus” – our band of
pilgrims went to the convent of Beit Abraham – (The Abraham’s House which is dedicated to the ministry of hospitality).
The Abraham’s House is at the top of the Mount of Scandal, also known as the Mount of Corruption, just south of the Mount of Olives. Its elevation is about 750 meters or 2,500 feet. Like the Mount of Olives, its eastern side is the beginning of the Judean Desert.
Beit Abraham, Jerusalem
Jerusalem, from the lofty perch of the convent roof we could see the Judean wilderness to the east.
)רוח קדים( That particular day there was a Khamsin, a dry, hot wind. In the Hebrew Bible, it is called ruaḥ qadīm or “east wind”, which is considered to be the wind of God. (The Tom Cruise movie ‘Mission: Impossible 7’, which is set in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, includes a chase scene in the middle of a Khamsin.)
That particular day the Khamsin was exceptionally strong. Our guide told us that he had not experienced one as strong as the one that day. In my journal for that day I wrote, “On the day of our visit there was a Khamsin, a huge wind that made it difficult to stand still and that stirred the sands of the desert so that there appeared to be a mist hanging over the land, but this was a stinging mist of pelting sand and would be quite difficult to endure if one were unfortunate enough to be out there in the middle of such a wind – out there, in the wilderness. That was the
place to which the Spirit drove Jesus and it was there that he spent forty days.” The Judean wilderness is a foreboding place. Any wilderness is a foreboding place.
While to the west we had a wonderful view of the old city of
REFLECTION – PART 2
Any wilderness is a foreboding place.
Did Jesus need to be in the wilderness for some reason? Truth be told, Jesus didn’t volunteer to go to wilderness – Mark reports that the Spirit drove him there. Did his wilderness period of struggle and temptation provide something essential to his ministry or accomplish some end that isn’t immediately apparent? We don’t know for sure, of course, as Mark doesn’t say.
Truth be told, none of us usually volunteer to go to wilderness places. We rarely choose them but we find ourselves in the middle of them – places of trial, temptation, anxiety, hardship and struggle. We rarely want or actively seek such things; we don’t seek to suffer.
I don’t believe that God wants us to suffer, let alone causes us to suffer. But I do wonder if we can imagine that perhaps God is at work both for us and through us during our wilderness times. Can we look at the
In our wilderness – God Is.
struggles we face in light of this story and ask, “Even though I did not wish for this, how might God be at work through this difficult period? What can I get out of this? How might God use me to help someone else?” Are we able to look at our struggles, hear the promise of God’s presence with us and find that God is at work in and through our wilderness times for the sake of this world which God loves so much and for the sake of God’s kingdom? God is, after all, in the business of taking that which seems only to cause death and somehow wring from it resurrection life.
This passage might just help us not just survive the wilderness times of our lives but to arise from them renewed in hope, faith, and assurance. This passage might just remind us to trust the Good News of God’s presence with us, especially during the
wilderness times that leave us feeling stretched beyond our abilities. That’s not a bad thing to remember as we beginning this season of Lent.
And as followers of Jesus it may not be a bad thing to remember as we meet together this morning for the annual general meeting of this community of faithful children of the Kingdom of God! Jesus came out of the wilderness and entered into public ministry. We, too, can emerge from the wilderness and walk into the world ready to serve and be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus, the Christ of God.
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of my practices during Lent, as I’m sure is the same for many of you, is to have a good Lenten book to read – something spiritually nourishing, that gives me new ideas to consider and fresh insights to reflect upon. This year I am hoping to read “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church” by Alan Kreider. If you are looking for another good suggestion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has an annual tradition of recommending a book for Lent. In 2021, he is promoting “Living His Story: Revealing the extraordinary love of God in ordinary ways” by Hannah Steele; I know that some of our parishes are doing a study of it. Let me know what you are reading this Lent, and how you like it!
I have an additional piece of Lenten reading this year. Like my Lenten book, I intend to read it slowly over the coming weeks – savour it – as I mine its wisdom. I am talking about the impressive 57-page final report of the Episcopal Leadership Working Group, which was delivered to me on Shrove Tuesday. Commissioned last spring, this report successfully completes the mandate of the ELWG, which was to “consider… alternatives to the current geographically- based model [of episcopal leadership] that might better meet the changing circumstances of the Diocese in the future”. Already I can see that this report synthesizes hundreds of hours of research, consultations with bishops and other dioceses, group deliberations and prayerful discernment. There are clear recommendations for me to consider. I will be taking my time with this report. In a few weeks, I will be meeting with the Working Group to thank them personally for their amazing work, and to share my initial reflections with them. Then, in the Easter Season, I anticipate a series of consultations with the whole Diocese. Town Hall meetings (likely over Zoom) will take place in the Spring. I will want your input as we consider a new direction for this Diocese.
We are all aware that we are already in a time of change. This coming week marks Bishop JennyAndison’s last as Area Bishop of York-Credit Valley. For the past four years, Bishop Jenny has brought her deep faith in Jesus, wisdom, energy, and imagination to her role as an Area Bishop and Suffragan Bishop of this Diocese. She will be greatly missed in York-Credit Valley, and at the College of Bishops table. But I know she takes her giftedness to St. Paul’s, Bloor Street as their new rector, and will continue to be a blessing to the Diocese of Toronto. I look forward to working with her in a new way.
As we continue to journey through this transitional time, I want to share with you how we have re-distributed the workload. We “remaining three”– Bishop Riscylla, Bishop Kevin and I – have been working to ensure that episcopal coverage is equitably shared across the whole Diocese. We met yesterday with the York-Credit Valley Regional Deans, as we did with the York-Simcoe Regional Deans in December, and shared that we have divided up the various deaneries for episcopal oversight during this interim season.
While Bishop Riscylla continues as the Area Bishop for Trent-Durham, she will also now have care of North Peel in York-Credit Valley, and Nottawasaga and Tecumseth in York-Simcoe. Bishop Kevin continues to be Area Bishop for York-Scarborough, but has now taken on Mississauga in York-Credit Valley, and Holland and Huronia Deaneries in York-Simcoe. I have taken on York Central in York-Simcoe, and Etobicoke-Humber and Parkdale-Toronto West in York-Credit Valley. (If you are unsure of your deanery, check out the Area pages of our refreshed website and find your parish.) Bishop Riscylla will attend Area Council meetings in York-Simcoe, and Bishop Kevin will attend Area Council meetings in York-Credit Valley.
With transitions occurring amongst our administrative staff team also, we are covering off the Trent- Durham Area Office differently going forward. In addition to their existing responsibilities in York-Simcoe and York-Credit Valley, Jenn Kean and Arleane Ralph will be providing support to Bishop Riscylla together, with Jenn taking administrative responsibility for the Deaneries of Peterborough and Victoria-Haliburton, and Arleane taking administrative responsibility for Durham-Northumberland and Oshawa. For a full break-down of how divisions have been made for the next few months, please see the attached chart.
Jenn and Arleane, together with Sue Willoughby in York-Scarborough, are available to answer all enquiries and can direct calls to the appropriate responder – whether Diocesan staff, Regional Dean, or appropriate Bishop, as needed. More than ever before, our administrative staff team will become the information hubs that make our Diocese run smoothly.
All of this is a transitional plan, which we will evaluate thoroughly in a couple of months. A small writing group of Regional Deans is working on a revised job description for their role, as we try to find new ways to support episcopal ministry. We are learning as we go, and none of this is permanent.
Lent is a dedicated and intentional time of fasting, prayer and penitence. There is often an element of “letting go” in order to let God have more space in our daily lives. There will feel like some “letting go” over the coming weeks in our Diocesan systems and structures as well – particularly around our habits and expectations – as we make space for God to show us a new way of doing things, how to be a Diocese in a new way. I thank the members of the Episcopal Leadership Working Group for the dedication to their task, and the resulting report which will inform a way forward. I thank Bishop Jenny for her years of fruitful jurisdictional episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Toronto. And I thank all of you who continue to uphold this Church in prayer during this season of change.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil Bishop of Toronto