First Sunday of Lent – Mark 1:12-15

Reflection by Kathy Pope, Co-ordinator Churches Together in Cornwall (County Ecumenical Officer).

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‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News!’ (Mark 1v15)

This final verse of the gospel extract we are given today is nothing if not upbeat, urgent and transformative. Now is the time, today, that my life must begin to change in response to Good News. Good news can, of course, be as challenging in our lives as any disaster or tragic news.

I remember well, even after forty years, how surprised I was when I realised that God might be calling me to marry the earnest young ordinand I had met when visiting my local Anglican church for Evensong. What would this mean? How could it work? What radical change would be involved, for us both? What would people say – our families and churches?

That sense of surprise, of needing to turn to a new perspective, to be open to new directions and new gifts, is of course what this call to repentance is all about; and it’s all because of good news. Sometimes, as Christians we can make very heavy weather of repentance, allowing it to drag us back into regret and self-pity. While being aware of how and when we fall short of our Christian calling, or plainly and deliberately sin, is essential, it is always in the context of this incredibly positive call, this pure, undeserved gift of the Good News.

In my ‘world’ of working for Christian unity I often hear regret and even despair that unity seems a long way off. And yet I also see Christians working together to serve their communities and care for our common home, the Earth. In fact, if it were not for Christians involving themselves in Foodbanks, Warm Spaces, Beach Cleans or Eco Church, and more, the essential social fabric of our communities would fracture or even disintegrate. At the grass roots the good news of Christian unity is not only possible but often a reality where people express their faith and love for neighbour together.

Sometimes I feel that this growing unity can even be a challenge to our churches. Much as we need and value the work of theologians and hierarchies the reality of Christian unity is expressed and grown by us as people. This is indeed good news that can involve radical change, transformation and repentance. We need not be afraid of the ‘other’, of compromising our identity or status, because Jesus teaches us that our differences are our gifts to each other, the way in which we can learn and grow, together.

So this is my hope: that, without changing any of our precious beliefs or practices, we might live as if Christian unity was already a reality, sharing and receiving freely and fully with other traditions. Surely this would be utterly confusing? Well, the experience of forty years in an interchurch marriage to a wonderful Anglican priest has taught me that unity is a journey inspired by good news; it is our calling, and as ordinary people we can obey Jesus’ call in confident anticipation that our institutional churches will help us express and clarify the reality of unity in the fullness of time.

Being a Christian is an exciting vocation, whatever our tradition, because we are called to hear and respond to the Good News continuously – the fantastic news that we are completely loved, we are always accompanied by the same angels who looked after Jesus in the desert, and the kingdom of God is close at hand for everyone.

Kathy Pope
Co-ordinator Churches Together in Cornwall (County Ecumenical Officer)