Wednesday, 1 March 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


Lent is not a time to be festive, but it is a time to become free, to be planted in holy ground, to become oaks of righteousness.
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,
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.

Image may contain: 1 personAfter 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.


  1. Gathered round a supper table on Ash Wednesday I, too, was with another oak of righteousness but who probably only thought of herself and the job that she does as a small acorn. But it's left me thinking that our daily work is never "just a job" when we offer it to God, have Jesus as our companion, and ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and breathe life into it. Whatever work we do we can begin it with prayer and so plant it in holy ground and let God transform us into oaks of righteousness.
    And the Ash Wednesday liturgy and last night's sermon reminded us we do this together. We need one another's encouragement, to see what we can't see, to help us recognise God at work in us and in whatever our daily routine is. We walk together through Lent.
    From daily work, to supper, to worship, to home, it is together, in Christian community, that the Lord makes himself known.

  2. As I travel through my Christian journey, I come to understand more and more my parents' fear , that I am growing distant from the Orthodox Church whose services and beliefs I am meant to be attending and following .
    Although I may not attend the Orthodox church, I know more of it now than I ever did as a child and young adult. I have been reading up about some of the practices of the church and discovered that strict adherents fast for 210 days of the year. Apart from the major fasts during Advent and Lent, and some of the shorter ones, a fast is kept every Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday, to remember the betrayal of Jesus, and Friday, to remember his death. I learnt that meat, fish , eggs and dairy products are given up during these periods, not as a sacrifice, but as self discipline. This explains why it is not just a favourite food such as chocolate that is given up. In the Syrian Orthodox the " Great Fast" begins on the Monday preceding Ash Wednesday. That is the start of Lent for them; for me too, a muddled Christian travelling a parallel journey of faith in the Church of England as I discover the faith of my ancestors.
    My own children don't share my understanding of Christianity..My prayer this Lent is that my children may discover faith just as I am discovering my roots. May they value the freedom we have to worship without fear.