Lent 2024: Monday Fifth Week of Lent 

Lent begins with the tribal story of the Exodus and concludes with the myth being lived out in the person of Jesus

It is when you say goodbye to someone that you understand what the time you spent together really meant. The ending of something allows you to see it as a whole, beginning, middle and end, and its meaning is easier to grasp. You might feel sorrow at the separation or the loss about to occur. You might sense some missed opportunities, which makes it feel you not only had a wonderful time together but also that something is incomplete and there is a residue of unrealised potential. 

Maybe this is why Irish goodbyes take so long, so that people have time to reflect on all these flavours of meaning before they leave. But, probably not, they just enjoy talking, and people tend to talk more at the end because perhaps there will not be another opportunity. 

Saying goodbye – as Jesus is doing in many of the passages of scripture we will read between now and Holy Week – the week of the long goodbye – impresses on us that what is past can never be repeated. We may say ‘au revoir’ or ‘hasta la vista’ or ‘see ya again soon’ – but we know that, if and when we do, we will be different people. We will recognise each other but how much will have been forgotten, discarded or have wholly faded from the pages of memory. In a sense, then, at every future reunion we will be starting again. Every farewell is a death undergone in the hope of a resurrection. But the certainty of hope – which is faith – does not mean that death does not transform and transfigure everything. Understandably, we say Let’s not leave it too long before next time. 

There is a uniqueness and unrepeatability in every encounter, all relationships and contact, however brief or enduring, intimate or superficial. Uniqueness is the fingerprint of God in this life on everything in time and space. 

Nicholas of Cusa was a great Christian thinker of the 15th century – cardinal and active church reformer – seen today as a transition between the medieval and the modern world. He anticipated many themes of modernity. His key insight was the ‘coincidence of opposites’ as being the ground of truth and so an especially good way of describing God. It means that God no longer needs to be thought of as separate and outside the human and natural world that He had called into being. He is here with us even when He is absent and absent, or self-concealing, when He feels most present. I learned recently that Nicholas was the first person to study plant growth and see that plants gain nourishment from the air – and that air has weight. Amazing, how much we can do in life when we are not wasting time with time-saving devices and trying to make our lives more convenient or productive. 

Approaching God as the ground of being unites even the most polarised objects of consciousness in the ‘ever-present origin’ and widens the tent of consciousness which is our home in this universe. This changes even the finality of death, and so makes the daily goodbyes a little easier. 

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