Ash Wednesday

“Let us change our garment for sackcloth and ashes; Let us fast and come before the Lord. For our God is merciful to forgive us our sins.”

These are the words we sang at S. Michael and All Angels in Christchurch, where I grew up. It was a high Anglican church, and there I began my love of traditional plainchant.

But I’ve been pondering abut Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, and wondering how it all fits into the modern context. I think the idea of a big feast on Shrove Tuesday is really just an excuse for a party. Not a bad idea in itself, but if we are to fast from modern things, like TV, or the internet, as was suggested in our service this evening, eating up all the eggs and milk by way of pancakes seems a little artificial, and in the Southern Hemisphere there is no agricultural connection with the leanness of early spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

Tonight’s service of the Imposition of Ashes took me straight back to the solemn liturgies I enjoyed in Christchurch. There is an intensity, a seriousness, a sense that it’s time to get real with God, about Lent. This is a time for raw honesty. I’ve often found it a disturbing time, a wilderness time even, when I’ve been forced to press deeper into finding God. Examining our hearts is a good thing to do, and part of the reason I love being an Anglican is that in this season of Lent we can concentrate on one thing. rather than taking on the whole Gospel message every week, which seemed to be what happened when we belonged to the Pentecostal church.

It is now the season for purple and ashes. It is a season for examining our hearts and our consciences, a season for calling for justice and righteousness. This is a good time to really think about issues of social justice. And please, I do not mean anything about planting trees, or hugging them, but I’m calling for a  renewed focus of Christians everywhere to speak up where there is injustice, not to sit back and say, well, there’s nothing we can do about it.

When two of my kids came home from school today, they were both upset that a stand of toetoe has been bulldozed away. This area was home to skinks, and from the Department of Conservation pictures it seems that they were the rare ones. The kids both were hot under the collar and wanted to do somehting about it. They both went straight to their rooms and wrote letters and petitions to those concerned.

Did you have that fire for justice when you were young? Have you still got it? Do the embers need fanning into flame?

Perhaps for Lent, it’s time to give up apathy, fence-sitting, and being too busy to help others.

What can you see?

When you look at the picture at the top of this blog, what do you see? It’s easy to focus on the graceful toetoe stalks (a kind of pampas grass which is common in NZ) waving in the wind. They are beautiful and spectacular, at 2 metres tall. But what is beyond it? First, the beach, with rounded stones, and driftwood, with lots of contrasting textures. Then there’s the sea-  Wellington Harbour, from the Eastbourne side. OK, so the water is sparkly and blue, so? Look beyond that again, and you will notice green hills, purpled by distance. What can there be of interest apart from a pretty landscape? Look closely at the hills, and clinging to the gullies you can just make out houses and roads. There’s a city of people there, surrounded by landscape, a city bustling and loving and hurting.

Where is your focus? There’s no right or wrong answer. At different times, different parts of this picture feed us. But when we are fed by the blue and green colours, which scientists say have a mood-stimulating effect, and the natural textures, it is time to cross the water, and engage with people again. May you see God’s hand in nature, and share God’s love for all of it, ourselves included.