Ash Wednesday

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Lent begins on Wednesday 17th February this year.  The Chaplaincy will be holding a service for Ash Wednesday on zoom at 12.15.  The details for joining are here:

Meeting ID: 845 1162 8990
Passcode: 130559

The English word for “Lent” comes from the same root as “lengthen” and the name of the season came about because it coincides with the lengthening of the days.  The sense of renewal and growth that we experience in Spring is also experienced by Christians as they make the journey through Lent towards Easter.

In the early Church Lent was a period of preparation for baptism, as all baptisms took place at Easter.  (We’re talking about the baptism of adults here.)  After a while Christians began to realize that it was helpful for everyone to have a yearly period of preparation for Easter, a time for going deeper in their relationship with Christ.

Lent is typically characterized by fasting, almsgiving and prayer. It is said to be a time of repentance, “metanoia”, meaning to turn around, to re-orientate oneself in the right direction.  Fasting can be seen not so much as negative: (giving something up for Lent), but as a positive time of strengthening and purifying, a time of training and preparation for a great event.  In our days of consciousness of the real link between our diet and our wellbeing, I think it has become easier to understand the cutting out of junk food and excess quantities as a positive and dynamic initiative.

In many traditions, notably in Islam, fasting is inextricably linked with giving to those in in need.  The strenuous discipline of Ramadan is often said to encourage a sharp consciousness of the miseries of needing basic necessities to survive.  Linking fasting with almsgiving is also an ancient Christian practice.  Surely any season in which we seek to draw closer to God will also bring us closer to other people, including their needs.

The season of Lent has also become linked with sharing in some way the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry with prayer and fasting.  It’s not so easy for us at the moment to find a place to disappear for a special time with God.  Christian centers, monasteries and retreat houses are not available to us in lockdown.  However, maybe we can all find a “desert place” which is known only to us – maybe a walk in a particular field, a particular street on our route back home, or (for those who are still going out to work) a particular staircase in a building where we always pray.

And what about the ashes?  Why Ash Wednesday? This comes from the practice of putting ashes on the head of a person as they begin a season of repentance.  Ashes represent the dust of the earth, the dust from which we come and to which we will return.  They remind us that however glamorous we may try to look, however thin, fit or generally gorgeous we may aspire to be, what really matters is being loved by God for who we really are!

Lent gives us an opportunity to refocus on our relationship with God – to make an effort to get things back in perspective and to turn round (repent).  It gives an opportunity to do something radical – to radically accept the love of God.

Mother Sarah

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