On Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent 2020 – thoughts from our Priest-in-Charge
That smudge on the forehead means so much to us now. Jesus was critical of the Jew’s outward show of piety, but we are now in post-resurrection times – and times when the church is under significant pressure.
I remember in my last job going to The Town Hall on Ash Wednesday to talk about a small charity. It was not a big deal, but it was my first official visit and I was nervous. I was greatly encouraged when I saw across the table another dusty smudge on the forehead of someone else in the group.
We are dust ourselves: 40%! And so was Jesus. He identified with us in our humanity and through the cross on our foreheads, we can identify with him in his agony and his glory. We are dust but dust destined for glory thanks to the leadership of Jesus and the encouragement of others inside the church.
A thought for Thursday 27 February: We’re so fortunate to be able to worship in six wonderful churches, when we include Wakerley in the Benefice. The architecture is just stunning and all contained in a small building! Look at the tops of the pillars – the capitals – when you are next inside. Many are decorated with all manner of flowers and fruits. The medieval mind was more adept than our own at seeing the work of nature of creation, as all of a piece with God’s other creations and inside the church we have a duty and a joy to give voice to that beauty. Unfortunately, in modern times we don’t see that unity quite so easily. Our objects of worship are man-made, wordy, earth-bound. Yet we only have to stop and look at the stars from our villages devoid of light pollution to see the grandeur of God’s creation!
This is most striking in Hopkins poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’ and even more so in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s not-quite-finished cathedral where trees and leaves abound.
A thought for Friday 28 February: Luke chapter 4, verse 20: ‘Jesus sat down, and all eyes were fixed on him’. He had been asked to read the scriptures in the synagogue and then there was a silence. It must have been like the silence at the end of the creation story, when God saw that it was very good and then rested! (Genesis 2.3.). Can you imagine the depth on expectation in that silence? If only we could create that quality of silence after our scripture readings today in church! It is a pregnant silence, full of potential and possibility.
At this, the start of Jesus’s ministry, he gives us a clue about the future and what to expect through his work. The Church which he came to create is here to continue that work. Today it will be contentious too, as powerful vested interests will try hard to obstruct the care of creation. It needs all our intelligence, passion and commitment to make headway. It won’t be easy but carrying a cross is never a walk in the park.
And for the first weekend of Lent: The huge modern church at Taize – so beloved of young pilgrims – is called The Church of the Reconciliation. It reminds us that God brings together all nationalities, all ages, all manner of people but also everything in creation.
What will heaven be like? Will it be like a giant British Harvest Festival with the perfect cauliflowers, carrots and expensive wine on view? I hope so! But if it is to be like that – with everything and everybody at the pinnacle of their perfection – then God has got his work cut out!
However, he has started. As Colossians reminds us, it started on the cross and that is the invisible sign on our foreheads at baptism. So, we too are involved in this striving for perfection; we too have so much to offer, so full of potential. But we don’t have long and some of us have less time than others!