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Ash Wednesday


On Ash Wednesday, the palm leaves and crosses saved from last year’s Palm Sunday are burnt into grey ashes. They are then smeared in the shape of a cross onto the foreheads of Christian people.

It’s a powerful symbol – an unexpected image. If you’re walking down the street or coming out of a shop and you happen to pass someone who has recently been at a church service and is marked with this prominent Lenten sign, you’ll look twice. The cross makes a person stand out.

But not just the person. This sign, whether worn on the forehead or not, signals for all Western Christians the beginning of Lent. Focussed reflection follows as it did for Jesus when he spent 40 days in the wilderness prior to three years of itinerant ministry. It is our period of reflection too. As Paul Wood and Ian Worsfold write:

You call us to the wilderness,
an empty, barren land.
The challenge is to break away
and then to trust your hand.

You call us to the wilderness
to concentrate the mind
on letting go of many things
that stifle humankind.

You call us to the wilderness
but all we see is loss:
for it’s a challenge to believe
the “power” of the cross.

You call us to the wilderness
to show a stronger way:
that power only has effect
when weakness wins the day.

You call us from the wilderness
and emptiness gives way,
enlivened by your Spirit’s breath,
returning to the day.

You call us from the wilderness
to diff’rent barren lands
to breathe the message of the cross
for other empty hands.

Words: © 2015, Paul Wood and Ian Worsfold

(From Singing the Faith Plus)

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