Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee!’ God willing, a deeper and more loving adoration of Christ should be the outcome of our Lenten Disciplines and of our Holy Week prayer and reflection. Any time of penitence means that the spotlight of the Holy Spirit is directed on the examination of our conscience, but this is only part of the spiritual dynamic. As the Holy Spirit convicts us of our own shortcomings, there ought to be a growing awareness of the tender and forgiving acceptance of Christ. A deepening sense of our own sinfulness should be balanced by a deepening realization of God’s love for us. As Jesus said, ‘Those who are forgiven much love much.’
It is a great pity that many Christians never experience this liberating truth. Times of fasting and penitence and the practice of confession are too often perceived as a negative experience, an exercise in spiritual self-abuse. When this attitude prevails, there is precious little hope that anything of lasting worth will come out of the process.
This is the worst kind of piety – a laudable, but pitiable, attempt at trying to be better. Nothing could be further from the purpose of Lent and Holy Week.
Self-examination, fasting and penitence – even when the sacrament of confession is not an outcome – is an expression of a relationship where the individual is loved and desires to love in return. As William Cowper writes in his poem Hark my soul, ‘Lord it is my chief complaint, that my love is weak and faint, yet I love thee and adore; O for grace to love thee more!’ The spirit of penitence and the desire for a good and honest life should arise out of love for Jesus.
This came home to me the other day during a conversation with a laywoman about fasting. She said, ‘I am just so happy I can do something for him.’ The fasting was not just an exercise in self-discipline, or about increasing self-awareness, although these are important. It was a token of love for the Lord; it was a fragrant offering of a heart that desires to spend itself and be spent in his service.
That is why Holy Week should be a time of adoration. In the great four days, beginning on Maundy Thursday, Christian people are drawn away by the liturgy from thinking about Christ, to being with Christ, and being with Christ they are moved to partake in the mystery of Love beyond reason. The Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb are not places to think. They are places of silent awe, wordless horror and indescribable joy.
God forbid that we should be so pious in our religion that there is no room for simple adoration. In adoration is both self-offering and revelation. Adoration is the fountain of thanksgiving, thanksgiving the cause for joy, and joy is the energy of self-giving. It is self-giving that moves us to take up our cross and follow him. Ask for grace to love and adore him. ‘We adore thee O Christ and we bless thee, for by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.’