LENT begins today, ideally a subdued day on which we all go to church. During today's Mass the priest marks our foreheads with blessed ashes, saying: "Remember O man that you are dust, and to dust you will return."
These words are from the Genesis account of our creation and fall. The ceremony reminds us of the mortality and frailty of human life. Vanity and foolish pride are silenced by that terrible formula: "to dust you will return."
We're not trying to be gloomy! We are just facing facts. In her wisdom, the Church does not pretend, or let us pretend that we do not die. During Lent the Church makes us face up to the dysfunctionality of our relationship with God, and on Ash Wednesday she forces us to come to terms with the fact of our mortality . . . that one day we will die. But she also points to what God, in his love and compassion, has done for us.
Through the sin and the gloom a light shines - the light of Jesus, who came to give us "life in all its fullness" - and the Church points to that light. The very ashes placed on our foreheads, a symbol of the dissolution and decay of our material bodies, are, in the Anglican tradition, imposed in the form of the life-giving Cross where life conquered death and love conquered hatred.
There IS a way out of the shadows - the way of the Cross and Resurrection, to which we journey during Lent, the "healing time" par excellence of the Christian year.
So, dust and ashes we are . . . but not merely dust and ashes! In Jesus we partake in that new creation into which we are being transformed.
A SOLEMN BLESSING FOR ASH WEDNESDAY
May God the Father, in his mercy, grant all of you,
like the prodigal Son,
the joy of returning home. Amen.
May Christ, our model of prayer and life,
guide you through this Lent
to true conversion of heart. Amen.
May the Spirit of wisdom and strength
sustain you in your struggle against evil,
and enable you to celebrate with Christ the victory of Easter. Amen.
May the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.