Saturday, 4 March 2017

Tabula Rasa

The First Sunday in Lent
Year A
Matthew 4:1-11

What visual image would you place at the top of your parish website which sums Lent up in a single glimpse? A forehead with a cross made of ashes, an altar vested in purple cloth, a desert with a cactus plant?  I’ve got a proposal this year for a Lenten image – that of a clean slate – a blank piece of paper – what would be known in Latin as a Tabula Rasa. A clean slate is both nothing and everything.  Were one of our students here at Christ Church to hand in an empty piece of A4 paper to the teacher in lieu of a completed assignment they would quite rightly receive an F and a lecture from the teacher.  A note might be sent home which, I assure you, would have some words written upon it. 

An empty piece of paper receives no enthusiasm. 

On the other hand, if you were somebody with a poetic bent you might find yourself quite thrilled to pour yourself a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and to sit down at the table and place a piece of white paper and a pencil in front of you.  A clean state can represent the possibility of change, novelty and forgiveness.   Perhaps your guidance counsellor told you, when you were moving from Middle School to the High School that you could start over with a clean slate and that you should take the opportunity of make the best of this opportunity.

There's a scene in David Lean's movie Dr Zhivago that I will always remember.  At one point in the film the hero struggles through a war-torn Siberian landscape until he reaches his childhood home - abandoned and encased in snow and ice. There he is reunited with his lover. They fire up the stove in one room and make it habitable. In the midst of all this chaos - the Russian Civil War and the depths of winter - they have a brief interlude of peace. 

Zhivago finds the desk he wrote on as a child. He opens the drawer and discovers there, laid out in order, a sheaf of white paper, a pen and a bottle of ink. 

He writes a poem. 

Blank pages and blank landscapes offer an endless series of possibilities. 

That Jesus spends time in a wilderness at the beginning of his ministry is no accident.  Israel has always come to its senses in the desert - in a place where the din of human conversation is silenced and where the usual comforts are set aside.  The desert is a place where humans are sheltered by whatever structures God had made and not by the labour of their own masons and carpenters.  It is a place where food is found and not grown.  It is a place where priorities are reassessed and new decisions are made.  

Do you have such a place around you?  Do you have such a place within you?