Thursday, 19 February 2015

of dust, and ashes, and rending hearts: Ash Wednesday

Some Lenten reflecting...perhaps on a daily basis, perhaps not.  We shall see!

'Yet even now, says the Lord, 
return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting, with weeping, with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, 
and relents from punishing.'  Joel 2:12-13

It was written, in mid-Scots, on the frontispiece of 'The Order of the General Fast and of Public Repentance'.  The classic text for those moved to, or encouraged towards, making acts of penance.
In his 'Order', Knox urged the community of the faithful to corporate penitence, an octave [8 days] of fasting, prayer, and meditating upon scripture.  To do so was to demonstrate to a watching God a conscious re-turning towards holiness, to faithful living; simply, of putting God first.  To do so was to also demonstrate to a watching world a conscious turning away from words and actions and attitudes that were unkind, unloving, that broke down relationships
both sacred and divine.
For penance is always about relationship -
tied in utterly with what it is to love God, and to love neighbour, and even to love oneself.
John Knox got that; he got the relational and the communal nature of penance.
Penance has never just been about 'me and my God': it is about us and our God.
One God, in perfect Triune community, demonstrating in very being, the intricate and beautiful weaving of relationship based on love; of connection and inter-connectedness;
of unity, diversity, and of harmony combined

With its dust and ashes and marking of cross on skin, Ash Wednesday is that first Lenten call to God's people to re-align, to re-turn: to turn again to the Lord, to express sorrow for looking elsewhere, getting caught up in other things, and in the process doing harm to others and to self.
The mix of ash and oil marking us as God's own,
called to move from out of the darkness and into his marvellous light.
The mark reminding us of our mortality - for we are not gods, we are God's.
The mark reminding us that, even in the act of falling in the dust upon our knees in humble sorrow, there is hope:
God does not leave us dust-bound, and death is not the final word.
As God's faithless, faithful, wholly human people, we are marked as God's own
restored, forgiven, free.
Called, as community, to be relational:
to turn to God
to turn to each other
to turn to our neighbour and the watching world.
To reach out, having first reached inwards and examined ourselves and discovered
God's wide, wide mercy.
To share the good news of God's steadfast love.
To rejoice, and give thanks that there is hope.
To remember that sorrow and weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Time to wait,
to watch,
to pray.
To sorrow, yes, but in this Lenten season of preparation, to know that we prepare in order to rejoice:
to celebrate the resurrection joy of Easter Sunday.
In a hat-tip to a friend:
now, where did I put those ashes...?

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