Collect for Ash Wednesday
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made
and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts that we,
worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament lesson:
Joel, 2, Vv 1 - 2 & 12 - 17
2 Corinthians 5: 20b - 6: 10
St Matthew 6, Vv 1 - 6 & 16 - 21
Lent is a special time for Christians. Most Christians know that the forty days of Lent remind them to give up something that is a sacrifice or an act of self-denial; acts that are geared to remind them of Christ. Lent should be a sacred and spiritual time for every Christian. This is the season that reminds us of the great sacrifice that Christ made for each one of us. Two centuries ago Jesus Christ went through an agony, a scourging, a crowning and a crucifixion. The tragedy of Good Friday, at the end of Lent, led to the triumph of Easter Day. The acts of self-denial, the acts of sacrifice that we make during this season, help us identify with the sacrifices of Christ. We unite our sacrifice with that of Christ, unite our pain with his. Lent is set aside just to remind us of these factors.
The whole thrust of the season of Lent is to increase our spirituality. It is to make us more aware of the great events that took place centuries ago. Yes, we can fast and, ‘give up things for Lent’, but it is perhaps better to do something active instead, or as well. Is there a spiritual book that we have been meaning to read but have so far not found time to start? Let us find time to read it this Lent. Is our prayer life suffering from too many worldly distractions? Can we find time to follow the psalmist’s suggestion, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Can we, perhaps, approach each celebration of the Blessed Sacrament better prepared to ‘stand on holy ground’ and meet with Our Lord? This Holy Eucharist has nourished hundreds of million of Christians down the ages. The bread and wine that truly are the Body and Blood of Christ are at the core of our Christian belief. We can, perhaps, usefully meditate on this during the season of Lent. The death of Christ on Good Friday, the world’s greatest act of Love, lies at the culmination of our Lent. The victory of Christ over death, the words of Christ reminding us that he is the resurrection and the life and that we will share in his victory and life, these are the lessons and teachings of Lent.
We all know that anything worthwhile in life demands a sacrifice. To merit or earn these victories of Christ, this love of Christ, we have to make sacrifices. Each one of us may have experienced some sort of an agony, a metaphorical scourging or crucifixion. It might be the agony of a painful illness. It might be the curse of some dark, mental depression. It might be a disappointment or bereavement. Lent reminds us that Christ has already been where we are and wherever we shall go. Lent reminds us that if we identify our suffering with the suffering of Christ our cross, our agonies, our afflictions will become so much lighter. Lent reminds us not only of the suffering of Christ, but of the love of Christ. The more we realise the sacredness of this season, the more we offer our suffering in union with the suffering of Christ; the more we identify with Christ, the more spiritual we become; the more sacred our Lent becomes, the more joyful will be our celebrations of the Resurrection on Easter morning.
Modern representations of Our Blessed Lord as a ‘nice guy’ make it easy to forget that he fasted and prayed for 40 days in the desert and suffered temptations at the hands of Satan before he began his ministry. Interestingly, during his Lent, Our Lord strictly avoided fellowship with his neighbour but turned, instead, to solitude with God, his Heavenly Father.
All the spiritual writers teach us that it is easy to make grand promises and resolutions regarding our Lenten sacrifices. Some of us will imagine that there is no difference between willing and doing a thing. Saint Matthew records Jesus saying: ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And He adds these solemn words, ‘Watch and pray.’
May we each have a prayerful, reflective, penitent and holy Lent so that we may rejoice the more in Christ’s Resurrection at Eastertide.
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