Ash Wednesday 2021
Reflections for Ash Wednesday at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton on 17 February 2021.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Psalm 51:1-187, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
In the book of Joel, we hear the words: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and 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.”
Many centuries ago, people who were sorry for something they had done wrong, or people who were mourning a death in the family would tear their clothes and either sit in ashes or throw ashes on their heads. At this time, they would pray and fast, or go without food for a time. This was a sign to everyone that they meant to say sorry or that they were sad. But only God could know what they felt in their hearts, that is why the Old testament bible story says rend or tear your hearts and not your clothing. In other words, don’t put on a show for people to see, but be sorry in your heart, and be willing to live a different way, and then all the other stuff is not important.
Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent could be called sorry time. The bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or Lent, but several hundred years after the first Christian churches gathered, it was thought to be a good idea to use the ancient symbol of ashes to help us say sorry to God, and to remind us that our time on earth is fragile, as fragile as dust and ashes and that we need to give life our best try.
The fourty days of Lent and the extra Days which are Sundays in the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter are a time when we can make an extra effort to study, to make some time to volunteer to help somewhere and to spend extra time praying or talking with God. We might say, why bother to study, work and to pray? We need to know that God loves us and that if we mess up, we need to fess up and be truly sorry, and try not to do the same wrong thing again, but change our ways. We need to remember that God loves us, no matter what happens, and knowing that we are forgiven, gives us hope for the future and it also gives us courage for our life ahead.
The Gospel story in Matthew speaks of storing up treasure in heaven, and the treasure here is acts of kindness to others and acts of obedience to God. So that our intention is to be God’s helpers in all we do, and it is not only about giving money for the work of God where it is needed but it is about loving God and wanting to share God’s love with others. To know that God loves us is like having a special treasure. So that where our treasure is there our hearts will be also.
The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF