Reflection: Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. The day derives its name from the ceremonial imposition of ashes on the foreheads of worshippers in the liturgy of the day, a rite that dates from at least the 10<sup>th</sup> century.
It was also seen as a time of penitential devotion and confession to be observed by all Christian people.
Penitence is an essential part of the Christian life, for none of us can measure up to the vocation that is ours as Christians. We are in constant need of the mercy and forgiveness of God.
I remember when I was being schooled in the ministry and beliefs of the Church of England many years ago, prior to my being confirmed, hearing those words during an Ash Wednesday service;
‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’.
Every year since I have listened to and read those words and been reminded of our mortality when I received ashes on my forehead. We need to remain stead-fast in the faith, to be penitential believers, and trust in God.
But in these days of virus lockdown and Zoom services in our churches how might we manage such important services as Ash Wednesday that undoubtedly pose ministerial and practical problems about imposition of ashes?
I remember a film starring Alec Guinness from the 1980s entitled Monsignor Quixote, a catholic priest, who one day knelt before the altar alone in his Parish Church to worship and receive communion.
He did not consecrate a bread wafer or wine in any physical way. Rather, he conducted worship and communion in spiritual ways. He brought himself before God, on behalf of himself and his congregation in a prayerful and penitential way that he believed was real and theologically appropriate.
Reflecting on such and how we might engage with an important service as Ash Wednesday with imposition of ashes, let us spiritually present ourselves before God as penitents and pray for our ourselves, for our nation and world, and for all to be reconciled in God through Christ.
May this season of Lent inspire and lead you into deeper realisations of the reality of God and God’s wish and love for all.