Ash Wednesday 2018


            “Let your hearts be broken, not your garments. Turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, ready to relent.”  These words of the Prophet Joel remind us that Lent is the time when we turn to God with broken hearts and ask him in his mercy to heal them. ”Now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation,” writes St Paul. In fact, God is so merciful and loving that Paul can say, “For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.” Incredibly, salvation doesn’t demand great sacrifices on our part. All God wants is that we open our hearts to him, so that he can do the rest. Salvation is God’s gift, not something we earn by our own efforts. Holiness is the fruit of faith and trust in God, allowing his grace to work in us.


            This is why Jesus warns us today to do nothing that attracts the attention of others. Don’t give arms, don’t pray, don’t fast like hypocrites, who are seen by others and praised for their good works. No, we are to do everything in secret; only God should know what we’re doing, as we seek to follow Christ this Lent. Although it is an ancient tradition of the Roman Church to place ashes on our heads today, the keeping of Lent is something intimate between God and each one of us. Above all, unless we undergo a change of heart, a real conversion, the whole exercise is futile. Yet, the simple giving up of a little thing can be a constant reminder of the essential giving up we should be aiming for, the giving up of our own will.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done,” and that is the goal of Lent.


            There are, of course, many penances and good works to choose from, but, in fact, God is calling us to accept, in a spirit of humility, the penance he has chosen for us. It could be something to do with our character or personal weaknesses, just learning to accept ourselves. It could be trying to accept others, someone we live with or a neighbour, being patient with their foibles and idiosyncrasies. As we grow older, it could be accepting diminishment, sickness or pain, loss of memory or agility. Inevitably, these come to all of us, so Lent can be about facing up to the realities of life with patience and good humour, knowing that beyond the Cross lies the glory of the Resurrection and the light of Easter.


            As we receive the ashes this morning, we will hear the words, “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” It would be good to reflect on these words of Scripture. We are dust, dust and ashes, and yet dust that is precious to God and has been given new life through the Spirit of Jesus. We are in his hands. May his will be done. Amen