Ash Wednesday is a day of Holy Obligation that this year falls on the 1st of March. That’s to say that it is one of the principal dates in the calendar when a Christian ought to be in Church to make their Holy Communion and prepare themselves for the start of this penitential season. There will be a Sung Eucharist celebrated in St Anne’s at 1100 am on Ash Wednesday and will include the Imposition of Ashes for those who desire to be “ashed”.
How we prepare for the season of Lent is a very private and personal thing; indeed, some Christian traditions pay it little attention whilst for others it is central to their devotional life and expression of the Faith. It represents for them a most significant opportunity to discipline oneself and to daily reflect on what it means to be a Christian and thereby grow closer to God.
There are two books that I shall be reading during Lent and both are written by the Dominican Friar, Timothy Radcliffe. They have themes that you might think odd for a priest in the Church of England to be following!!! One is entitled, “What is the point of being a Christian?” and the other is “Why bother going to Church.”
But not so. These are fundamental questions that we all should be asking; if not we are in danger of slipping into “just doing what we do because we always have in Church” and being satisfied with that.
The Christian Gospel imperative is laced with a perpetual challenge to grow into holiness. This is not about being aloof, distant or superior but has an awful lot to do with the two most important questions that any human being ought to ask themselves; and these are, “Who am I?” and “Why am I on the planet?”
The season of Lent provides us with a period of time to realise and understand who the “I” is and what it means to be loved by God and his purposes for “I”. (sorry about the strained English there!). Throughout its length of days we would do well to engage both with the Scriptural readings that are used in Lent Sunday by Sunday and indeed, day by day. This will help us understand the pattern of Jesus’ experience that he so often shares with us with his people and sometimes referred to as “the necessary wilderness within”; a place, paradoxically, of spiritual growth. We realise just how much we are loved by God when we spend time with Jesus – in the Breaking of Bread, in the proclamation of the Holy Gospel and in prayer.
Do make the most of Lent! Fr Nicholas Stebbing (about whom I will much refer to at some later point) is with us on Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter Day offering a series of addresses to encourage us in that exact task.