From the middle ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked with the sign of the cross in ash - an ancient sign of penitence.
9.30am - Ash Wednesday at Home
Join the Zoom Meeting:
12pm - In-person at Venerable Bede
Join us at Venerable Bede, West Road, NE4 8AP
We will meet for our traditional Holy Communion and ashing at the Venerable Bede. Rather than marking you with a cross, to limit contact, this year we will sprinkle the ashes on your head.
Farsi translation / خطبه
در هنگام خطبه روز یکشنبه هدفون های خود را بگذارید و به این ترجمه گوش دهید.
یا در خانه گوش دهید.
Translation for our Farsi speakers.
Your donations ensure our work keeps going and our buildings stay open.
The Revd David Kirkwood
I have just come from taking a funeral, in that service I said the words, as we do in every such service , ‘dust to dust ashes to ashes’ Whether it is a cremation, when we commit the body to be consumed by fire, or a burial, when we commit the body to the ground, the sombre words remain the same ‘dust to dust ashes to ashes’ At a burial a handful of earth is traditionally thrown on the coffin as the words are spoken.
Today’s service echoes those words ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’
As they are spoken in our service, ash will be used to make the point, normally we would use the ash to make the sign of the cross on the forehead, today, due to covid, we can’t do that so instead it will be scattered over those who wish to take part, just as the earth is scattered on the coffin.
Is this all a bit morbid? Too gloomy?
It certainly may be distressing especially if we have painful experiences of loss but it stands as an unavoidable truth that opens our Lent journey. Bodily death is unavoidable. The journey that began with our birth will end one day with our death. It is a simple fact, even if it is one we would sometimes rather ignore. Ignoring that fact has been much harder to do lately, in these days of covd19 there have been near daily reminders, the regular recital of grim statistics, intermingled with poignant personal stories.
It is a hard beginning but a realistic one and Lent is nothing if is not honest, nor is it the only uncomfortable truth that Lent brings.
The words ‘dust to dust’ originate from the book of Genesis, at the beginning of the Bible, when, after Adam has eaten the forbidden fruit, God tells him ‘dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return’ (Gen 3:19 AV).
In the biblical tradition death is not just a natural phenomenon, it is bound up with ideas of sin, guilt and punishment. As in Genesis, so in the New Testament; death and sin go together. For St Paul ‘sin pays a wage.., the wages of sin is death.’
So after saying ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.’ We will continue ‘Turn away from sin’
The language of ‘sin’ may not come easily in the modern world but the reality of human wickedness is as real today as in the past.
Lent is a time for coming face to face not just with our mortality, our physical frailty, but with our moral failure too.
But Lent is not about wallowing in the mire. If we focus on these dark and negative experiences it is because we believe they can be overcome. But nor is Lent an exercise in self-help. This second sentence in full will be not ‘Turn away from sin and be a better person’, but ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’
If the first sentence reminded us of the funeral service these words call to mind what happens at baptism.
In the baptism service those being baptised are asked
‘Do you turn to Christ?’ ‘Do you repent of your sins?’ ‘Do you renounce evil?’
And then the baptism promises are made
‘I turn to Christ’, ‘I repent of my sins’, ‘I renounce evil’.
Personal assent and commitment is needed, we must say ‘yes’, but it is Christ that makes the difference, and it is to Him that we must turn.
Today begins our journey towards Easter, when we will remember Jesus death on Good Friday, before celebrating His Resurrection on Easter Day. Christ triumphant over sin and death. Since the early days of the Church Easter has been especially a time for Baptism, recalling how every Christian is made a sharer in that triumph. We hope to be able to baptise new members on Easter Day and we will all be encouraged at the same time to reaffirm our own baptism promises.
The days in between are important, reminders that we are called not just to the natural journey from birth to death but the inner journey from sin to Christ. How will we best use these days?
By doing just what we promise, turning to Christ.
Looking to Him, to His way, His mercy, His compassion, making space for Him, giving what time we can. In prayer, in study, in acts of charity and service Giving up, or taking on. But in all remembering that Lent is not a chance to show how good we are, or can be if we really try, it simply offers a gateway to return to what we were made for, a gateway we enter not by making ourselves something we are not, but by acknowledging what we are. Lent offers us again the way of Christ’s cross it may look like a burden but in reality it is the way of life.
‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’