Our Assistant Priest Writes

What Ash Wednesday Already? Haven’t we only just finished with Christmas?

Well, of course that’s not quite true, even if we do extend the season beyond the straightforward Christmas Day midday cutoff many commercial concerns seem to go in for. But, having looked forward for so long to the arrival of the baby Jesus, the lectionary suddenly races through the early stages of his life and ministry so that we’re ready for that long trek into the wilderness.

Lent is upon us. And our language changes from joy and peace and new beginnings to more demanding, serious and urgent things. Our religious discourse starts to make demands of us; concepts like ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘ought’ appear; there’s a sense of judgmental imperative in the air. A bit like the adverts for gyms in January.

The key to a good Lent is not, ironically, choosing the right spiritual exercise programme – knowing what to give up, or take on; it is actually to be found in getting Ash Wednesday right. This is the day when we truly take stock of ourselves as Christians; heeding the warning of Screwtape, C S Lewis’s senior tempter, saying of a recently professed Christian;

‘What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church.’

We need to start by understanding our own failure and honestly confronting it.

The key is realising that if we move by our own efforts alone, leaving God to one side, what we try to do will represent failure even if it looks like success. But that doesn’t mean a six-week period of spiritual ‘downbeat-ness’.

On Ash Wednesday we receive the mark of ashes on our forehead as a sign that we have understood the frailty of our human condition. And once we have accepted ourselves as incapable of working out our own salvation, it leaves us free from the temptation to organise it; it means we can accept the grace of God and walk where He leads.

Every blessing for the season of Lent.