This week we enter one of the most significant seasons of the christian calendar, Lent – a season of belonging.
For a period of 40 days (+6 Sundays) we are invited to prepare our hearts and bodies to be ready to embrace the paschal (Easter) mystery; the paradox that resurrection life can only be received through embracing the suffering, humility and vulnerability of the cross. Lent is an invitation to experience beauty amidst pain and suffering, deep joy alongside humiliation and rejection, and the intimate knowledge of Gods love for you personally. Lent invites us to imitate the practice of Jesus when he spent 40 days in the wilderness, tempted by the desires of life that we all encounter daily, and to choose to belong to God. It is not as many think, a time of sorrow, but a time of honest reflection, a time when we consciously choose to turn away from the activity and turmoil, stresses, tasks and responsibilities of our busy modern lives and instead to create pauses, intervals of silence so that instead of avoiding our true feelings, and burying our hurts, our angers, our disappointments, through endless episodes of TV, social gatherings or intense work schedules we choose to face our shadows and temptations, our vulnerability and brokenness, our failures. And in the quietness, in the spaces made we discover the still small voice of everlasting love and acceptance that is waiting for us.
This beautiful season of belonging begins on Ash Wednesday (6th March 19) with an ancient ritual whereby participants are invited to receive the mark of the cross of Christ upon your forehead as a physical signifier that you continue to choose to follow him. This mark of belonging to Gods family is made with ashes and oil, it is a very moving and tactile act; as you are touched on the forehead by the priest or service leader, his fingers dipped in oil and black ashes, he speaks words of scripture over you,
“Remember thou art dust and to dust you shall return.” Often followed by the invitation “Repent and believe in the Gospel”
These words and this ritual act as a reminder of our own vulnerability and mortality, and are an invitation to ask for forgiveness and to physically receive the mark of Christs cross to know that we belong to him. How beautiful is this mark, two lines, one that crosses the other, the horizontal represents our present life, our troubles, our fears, our pain and suffering, the vertical mark strikes through that and draws the path from God to man that was opened through the cross.