ASH WEDNESDAY MARCH 1st 2017:
THE GIFT OF ASHES
Today is the start of Lent 2017. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, our end, our death. So it can seem quite stark. Yet, it has felt more like a gift to me. There has been a quietness about today. And as I have walked around the parish to various places, I have been interested and surprised at how many faces I have seen with smudges of ash and oil peeking out from under fringes and hats.
I hope to keep blogging through Lent and return to the Names of Jesus series after Easter. So here goes for the next seven week. Please join in with comments and thoughts. We are all built up by the insights and wisdom we share from the bible and our experiences.
I begin with some of the stark and beautiful words of the Anglican rite for Ash Wednesday: The Imposition of Ashes
We will walk with the Lord on this journey through Lent
Dear friends in Christ, I invite you to receive these ashes as a sign of the spirit of penitence with which we shall keep this season of Lent.
God our Father, you create us from the dust of the earth: grant that these ashes may be for us a sign of our penitence and a symbol of our mortality; for it is by your grace alone that we receive eternal life in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
At the imposition of ashes the minister says to each person:
Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
Return your seats and kneel
At the end the minister says:
The Lord enrich you with his grace,
The Lord enrich you with his grace,
and nourish you with his blessing;
the Lord defend you in trouble and keep you from evil;
the Lord accept your prayers,
and absolve you from your offences,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This Lent I have decided to give up driving the car around the Parish. And so I am slowing down between appointments and visits. It does mean I am going to have to be super-organised and build more time imbetween things. But slowing down is good. And so is the opportunity to speak to more people out and about.
After our morning worship, I plodded along to Thimblemill Library, for an historic occasion. Our own little library is the first in the country to have been granted the status of Library of Sanctuary by the Cities of Sanctuary movement. This is a growing people-inspired movement which covers 90 towns and cities across England. Its aim is to foster generous welcome to refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing desperate places of threat and given them a sense of sanctuary. Julie Mckirdy, librarian and one of the most community-minded and selfless people of our neighbourhood (see picture), has extended a welcome to Bearwood Action for Refugees. And through that relationship, the library has become a hive of activity to support events and fundraising for refugees and asylum seekers in our community.
If Lent is a time when we learn what it is to be 'oaks of righteousness', then today it was a privilege to be in the shade of some of those oaks in our community. People of faith and people of goodwill who are working with the compassion and outward facing love of God for those on the margins and in need of a cup of tea and a welcome.
The closer we are to understanding our own mortality, the more open we are to those who are truly vulnerable. And Christ walks with those who are most aware of these profound things.
Today I saw the face of Christ in many places. Some faces had ash and oil smeared on their foreheads. Some did not. Lent is not a time to be festive. But it is a time to be free. May our community continue to be a people and place where we are free from fear, free from the ogres of racism and discrimination, and free from the idols of materialism and greed. Free to worship, without fear.