Friday, 24 February 2012

Keeping Up to Date for Lent

On Wednesday, I discovered one reason why people don't go to church! It was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I was in the unusual position of not having committed myself to take part in a service anywhere particular. So I went online to find the times of services nearby. Six church websites later, I was none the wiser. Three did not even mention the fact that 22nd February was Ash Wednesday. Two appeared to have no service (or possibly no section to advertise midweek services). One listed the service but gave no time. One had last been updated in November. Hmmm. Rather like a hotel website that doesn't tell you how to make bookings. It was tempting to stay by the fire but then Lent is all about wrestling with temptation....

I did eventually find a service which was welcoming, simple and moving and included the traditional Imposition of Ashes. Ashes are a symbol of both purification (Numbers 19.9, Hebrews 9.13) and penitence (Judith 9.1, Jonah 3.6, Luke 10.13, Matthew 11.21) and have been used by Christians since at least the tenth century on the first day of Lent as a public sign of penitence for sin. At the Eucharist, each worshipper's forehead is marked with a cross of ashes made by burning the palm crosses used in last year's celebration of Palm Sunday. The ashes also remind us of our mortality and our dependence on God for our existence, 'Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.' These words also remind me powerfully that I am an integral part of God's created order, not separate from it or superior to it and not free to squander the gifts of nature for my own needs.

I'd like to suggest that part of our Lenten discipline this year might be to keep church websites up to date so that anyone who suddenly and unexpectedly thinks, 'I'd like to go to church' - and I can't be the only person this has ever happened to - can find the location, time and date of services nearby. Most of us google everything else so you can bet that people who want to find a church are googling too!   

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