Ashes to Ashes

So, how’s Lent going for you? I’m writing this at the start of Lent (on Ash Wednesday to be precise), so, so far, so good! I am reading “Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent“, a collection of meditations by Fr Richard Rohr. Rohr is an American Franciscan Roman Catholic Priest. I first came across his writing when I was attending a conference in Salisbury. The conference was aimed at those looking at sustaining ministry for the long haul. (In other words, those who have been in ordained ministry for quite a while but who aren’t ready to think about retirement just yet! People like me.)

Richard Rohr has written about spirituality for what he calls the ‘two halves of life’. The first ‘half’ of life is a time for finding out who we are. It’s time to test the boundaries, to strive, to achieve. In the second half of life, all being well, we have found out who we are. Now it’s time to be who we are. So who are we? He says there are two key moments in our lives:

“One is when you know that your one and only life is absolutely valuable and alive.
The other is when you know your life, as presently lived, is entirely pointless and empty.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a paradox!

The first moment is about connecting with God, our ‘ultimate Source and Ground’, in which we find ‘energy and joy’. The second moment gives us ‘limits and boundaries, and a proper humility’. We need to know both, and in Lent, we are invited to find both.

I suppose it depends on your personality and experience whether you need to be reminded how fabulous you are, or whether you need reminding how limited you are. We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday. Ashes have long been a symbol of humility and repentance – in Genesis the Bible says that we have come from ‘dust’ and to ‘dust’ we will return; and the phrase “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is used in the funeral service. It might seem morbid, being reminded of your mortality and of the need to repent, but we don’t do it every day of the year, just on Ash Wednesday.

Richard Rohr points out that the ashes we use at the start of Lent are traditionally made from the previous year’s Palm Crosses. Palm Sunday (on 20th March this year) is a bit of a false start. The crowds welcome Jesus as a hero whom they hope will liberate them from the oppression of their Roman masters. But those hopes are cruelly dashed on Good Friday. They were false hopes. Jesus will bring about our liberation, but not by espousing the methods of their oppressors – the violence of arms and force. So, as we begin Lent, the crumbled hopes of false starts are placed on our foreheads. No need to rub it in! we say. But it’s only one day a year and we are very stubborn when it comes to learning lessons. Especially the lesson of the Cross. We want a Palm Sunday Jesus, all cheers and celebration. But Ash Wednesday reminds us (even before we get to Palm Sunday) that Jesus won’t get to the bright glory of Easter without passing through the ash-darkness of the Cross.

We have a number of ways of helping you to know yourself a bit better during Lent. On the Wednesday evenings (February 17th and 24th; March 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd ) we have a service of Compline (7:30PM at St Matthew’s). Compline is to do with bringing the day to ‘completion’ – a quiet, peaceful, thoughtful time of prayer before the day ends. But it also invites to consider how all things will come to their completion. (Don’t worry, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. Those who come love it.)

On Palm Sunday (20th March, 4:30PM at St Matthew’s) we are getting our ‘extended choir’ together again for a service of worship that will get us ready for Holy Week. On the Monday of Holy Week (7:30PM, 21st March) we look forward to welcoming the Bridgewater Singers who will perform Bob Chilcott’s ‘St John Passion‘. And then on the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings there will be more opportunities for prayer and reflection.

Thursday 23rd March is Maundy Thursday, when we mark two of the greatest gifts that Jesus gave to his disciples – the eucharist and the great commandment ‘to love one another’. There will be services at St Matthew’s at 10:30AM and 7:30PM.

Good Friday is on 24th March. We will be following the Stations of the Cross at both churches – 10:00AM at St Cross and 2:00PM at St Matthew’s. Between them, at noon, there is the Bridgewater Churches Together act of worship and witness in the middle of Stockton Heath.

So, have a good Lent. Easter isn’t that far away…

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