Ash Wednesday

  • Preacher

    Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson

In our house we have mixed memories of eating fish on Fridays. Rather tasteless grey fish served with parsley sauce and butter free mashed potatoes reminds us of rather penitential fayre and probably the most disappointing meal of the week. But I guess it was supposed to be just that – a meal to remind you to be thankful for the meat and other goodies we ate on the other six days.

A fortnight ago I was invited by a colleague for fish and chips in the staff canteen at St Thomas’ Hospital. I jumped at the chance and it felt like lunch at Claridges, or at least what I imagine lunch at Claridges must be like. Why my joy? Perhaps it was the normality of a socially distanced queue with tray in hand, or the golden brown deep fried fish and chips (though sadly not fried in lard as would happen in my native Yorkshire), or sharing a meal with a colleague, albeit it separated by a perspex screen. It certainly didn’t feel penitential.

Today is Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent, when we traditionally look to the things of God by giving things up and focussing on a simpler and more Christ-centred lifestyle. This year Lent feels very different, following months in which we have given up so much. Spending time with those we love, hugs and kisses and embracing others, visits to the theatre and galleries, conversations with school and work friends, meeting more than one person over a meal without social distancing, travelling and holidays. The list seems endless.  Whatever we have given up and continue to do so will be very different for each of us and will have had a different impact on our mental health and wellbeing.

Having given up so much this past year, I’d like to suggest a different approach to Lent this year. Instead of giving up something, let’s take something on.

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of ‘your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noon day.’ What can we take up which might shine some light into the lives of others as well as our own? We might like to pick up the phone and speak to someone we haven’t been in touch with for ages. Sometimes we feel we’ve left it too long. Well,  let’s use Lent as our amnesty, our excuse, to rekindle our friendships. Or write a letter to someone or send them a text. Smile at someone when you go for your walk or wave from your window. Read a book. There’s a wonderful selection of Lenten books available from our online shop. If you’re into poetry you might like My Sour-Sweet Days by Mark Oakley, reflecting on the poems of George Herbert. Or one of my favourites, The Art of Lent by Sister Wendy Becket looking at a different painting each day. You could make a commitment to join us online for Morning Prayer or Night Prayer each day.

In our gospel reading we are warned not to practise our piety before others. I think that lockdown may have put paid to that. This year we have the advantage of shutting the door and praying to our Father in heaven. The writer of the gospel suggests that ‘where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.’ Where is your treasure and mine? And is it within our hearts? Is that treasure something we keep to ourselves or can we find new ways of sharing it with others?

On walks around my neighbourhood in the first lockdown last Spring I found the posters springing up on billboards heart warming and inspiring. ‘Community is kindness’ and ‘Let’s look out for one another’ they proclaimed, together with, ‘Please believe these days will pass.’ We are delighted to be using this artwork by Mark Tichner for our Lenten services and his work will be installed in the Cathedral later this summer. They echo the words of Isaiah that all things will pass and be caught up in the victory of God; that ‘the Lord will guide us continually and satisfy our needs in parched places.’

As we begin our journey through Lent may we look out each day for the ways in which God sustains and refreshes us and may we seek to be agents of healing and hope for others.