It was a day of ashes, ashes in Prison and the Cathedral. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a time of self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditation on God’s Word.
During the liturgy of Ash Wednesday the ashes of the burnt palms crosses from last year are used to put a cross on the forehead.
The Bishop of Exeter who was preaching in the Cathedral reminded us that ashes have many connotations – ashes of a barbeque representing a time of enjoyment, the ashes of a wood burner representing a time with family or the ashes which families found in their children’s hair weeks after 9/11 in New York. Ashes remind us of our own mortality and our own vulnerability.
Having been marked with a cross of ashes I knelt and could smell the ashes. It reminded me of the a different type of ash I smelt in the prison earlier in the day. If lent is a time of denial so is prison; denial of freedom, of family, of employment, of value and dignity where repentance is seen with a different clarity.
We might feel that those in prison have a greater need for repentance but all of us in some way have not loved our neighbour, been guilty of pride, hypocrisy, impatience, exploitation of other people and dishonesty even if we would not sign up to the belief that we have not loved God with our whole heart and mind and strength, we could all do with turning from our past and being faithful to a better future.
So Ash Wednesday speaks of hope – a hope that our future (and the future of those in prison) can be more positive than our past if we choose.
For us as Christians it point us towards the hope of what God has done in the past in the death and resurrection of Jesus which points to a future of a new heaven and new earth but most importantly it holds us in our present and enables us to turn towards life and lie in all its fullness.
Remember you are but dust and to dust we will return. Repent of your sins and be faithful to Christ.