I haven't been to a service on Ash Wednesday since I married. My husband who has a phobia about death and didn't have much experience of a church community would have been horrified by the tradition of the vicar marking your forehead with ash and telling you to "remember that from dust you came and to dust you shall return."
The ashes come from burned palm leaves from the previous year and are blessed by a member of the clergy. Why? Because throughout Christian history ashes have been viewed as a mark of humility and sacrifice for the faithful who wear them.
Even in Old Testament times, ashes were symbolic of mourning and repentance.
In Daniel 9:3, the prophet shared that he "… turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes." Not that I have ever managed to finish reading Daniel or to understand it!
Fasting is common on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and I was brought up to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays during Lent or maybe it was just an excuse to go to the chip shop, who knows? I'm not certain if we are still expected to avoid red meat I know my family certainly aren't aware of the fact that it isn't served on Fridays during Lent. I'm slowly coming to terms with a more liberal view point. Although at church this morning my heart felt a moment of joy to hear a bell rung during service. Overall I'm glad that my children's experience of God is a loving father not a strict judge.
This year on Ash Wednesday I was called to a meeting of SPA (the PTA of my daughters college) it was a low turn out and as the few members drank wine and discussed fund raising and lack of support my thoughts drifted away from quiz nights and to the mark of sin some would be receiving.
On Ash Wednesday there is no need to try and be perfect, we are expected to reflect, acknowledge our frailty and sinfulness.
I seem to remember being told that "We ALL bear the mark of sin, from the youngest babies to the oldest seniors. We all stand guilty before a holy God. We all are mortal and will someday experience bodily death. Thus we all need a Saviour." I'm not sure where I picked it up. "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Is another quote that stirs in my memory. The mental picture of hell for me is not being denied paradise but contains flames and agonies not to mention the tales of purgatory - which isn't anything like waiting in a train station for a couple of hundred years. Like most generations before me when it comes to my children, I'm doing it differently from my parents. My girls are being brought up with a pretty major BUT when it comes to sin.
The last time I was really quite ill I remember a home visit and the gift of a infant in the Lords hand and being told "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ."
Lent is a time of introspection, solemnity and, in some penitence. For many it is a time of fasting, self-denial or sacrifice. “What did you give up for Lent?” is a common question this time of year. I'm not sure if I can every give up my guilt and demons, I doubt that I will ever feel 'worthy.' But this year I have given up setting myself to fail in the self denial arena.
My vicar Sandra encourage a path that isn't to deny but to do something extra and I have been given a text to study over Lent.
I have also written a list of extra that I'm focusing on over the Lenten period:
• Wake up 30 minutes earlier every day
• Meditate for at least three minutes, and go from there
• Limit TV time
• Reduce my internet time
• Read my Lent book
• Keep a gratitude list
In the past I have found that my writing has improved over the period. I was very moved by today sermon given by a lovely lady named Dawn who is a street preacher. She asked us to reflect not on our outside appearance but think about who we are inside. To still the chattering monkeys in our mind, to avoid the snippet of gossip we do not need that doesn't concern us. And focus on what is really important.