|"No gain without pain"
by Fr Alan Gyle, Vicar
At precisely five feet tall and with long, bright pink dyed hair (think super-charged, diminutive Zandra Rhodes), Francesca makes an impact. Francesca is a personal trainer... No, (I’ve waited forty four years to say this) Francesca is my personal trainer (a personal trainer is surely the ultimate Belgravia accessory!). In fact she is my Lenten treat to myself: what I have ‘taken on’ in an attempt, before it is all too late, to instil some physical rigour in an all-too-sedentary life, and some fitness and muscle tone to an all-too-corpulent body (did you really believe that clergy wear black for some other reason than that it is a sliming colour?). The legacy of my first sessions (“c’mon, just give me another ten of those, Alan...”) - aches in places I didn’t know I could ache, a stiffness that makes genuflection a real challenge – but also, as the pain recedes, the beginnings of a sense that there might be hope and that change might be possible. “No gain without pain,” as they say! Be warned, dear readers, stay out of Hyde Park on Friday mornings: it is not, as yet, a pretty sight.
“No gain without pain” might almost be shorthand for the theology of Passiontide – a season that begins this Sunday (Lent 5) and extends through Palm Sunday and Holy Week to the dawn of Easter Day. The term ‘Passiontide’ is derived from the Greek verb paschō – to suffer (the Western Church derived the term from the Latin Vulgate ‘passio’) – andPassiontide is therefore that season in which, annually, the people of God connect again with the events of the last days of our Lord as he enters Jerusalem and prepares for the struggle, persecution and, finally, the death that occurs on a Green Hill outside the city wall on Good Friday. This re-engagement with a story of pain, cruelty and suffering is not some morbid exercise or bleak, masochistic endeavour: there is no virtue in telling a sad story for its own sake, still less in self-absorbed Christian gloominess. Passiontide is about something rather more than these. As the Passion Gospels tell again the story, the preaching and reflections, prayers and meditations make a connection between this story of suffering and our story – and assure us not only that God is not remote from what we experience (but, in Christ, has been everywhere we are expected to go, even to death), but also that in and through struggle and suffering there is a hope of new life that is God’s promise and most astonishing gift. Gain through pain – and the promise of life transformed by God in a way so much more wonderful than anything we can achieve ourselves... even with the encouragement of the wondrous Francesca!