= Ashes and Kites =
At the beginning of Lent (for background see: https://stcatherines-stuttgart.de/services/seasonal-worship/ ) Christians traditionally receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the words
‘remember you are dust and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’
Ashing is a universal symbol for human mortality, also for grief and mourning, and of course repentance.
The last time I was SO aware of our mortality as frail human beings was the Ash Wednesday after the ‘Boxing Day Tsunami” of 2004 which had a death toll of quarter of a million I believe. Of course there have been smaller reminders since – mostly in connection with Terror Attacks in European cities where the fatalities were often young people. There is something about things happening ‘on your door step’ to focus the mind.
In the past year we have seen a virus at work which has and continues through mutations attempts to do its very worst.
‘O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am !’
One challenge I believe to how we see and understand the world includes some basic assumptions which we now know are simply wrong.
Death does not only happen to the very old and the very sick rendering the rest of us immune to some seemingly distant threat.
Death does not care about whether we come from an educated background or an affluent one.
Too long has the epi-centre of extreme and mass suffering been in the floods of Bangladesh and the droughts of Somalia and the hurricanes of Oklahoma…… the poor bearing the climate change consequences of the lifestyle choices of the rich.
This virus has changed all of that and for this year – perhaps as a stand alone year – we are invited on Ash Wednesday not to attend a service*, but to reflect on our understanding of mortality in the light of what 2020 has looked like for us. Take a step back from fear and confusion or indeed complacency.
What entitlements and what assumptions that we have inherited from our culture, have been changed ?
Have I become more thankful and more prayerful or less ?
Ash Wednesday is a sobering day and begins a season of serious and sobering reflection.
But there is another symbol for this season – a complementary one. Some Greek Orthodox churches and communities mark the start of Lent in quite a different way. For them the first day of Lent is treated as the first Outdoor day of the year. Lent is thus the beginning of Spring. (Lent does in fact mean ‘spring’). After the long death of winter, here is the first sign that new life is coming. (think of the many images of new life of Easter only 7 weeks later !) So we must go outside to greet this first day of spring, of new life. If you/we were also Greek Orthodox, we would climb the nearest hill and fly kites on the fresh spring wind!
Take those two images together – the ash and the kites – and we have a turning from and a turning to.
From – sin and unreflective living and assumptions and entitlements…..
To – life and the spirit which is enticing and provoking and inspiring ….. and so thus enables the turning from.
The two images together mean we can be caught up into the adventure of divine love.
With Lenten Blessings.
*there will be a short reflective Online service on Ash Wednesday and if you live in Stuttgart and happen to be in town our lovely church will be open all afternoon (14.00-18.00) for reflection and Ashing (by the Chaplain).