Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ash Wednesday

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The first time I attended a service where people received a cross of ash on their head was at Cranmer Hall in Durham, where I trained for the ministry. Although I was perfectly familiar with the communion liturgy and all other aspects of the service, I found it quite strange and stayed in my seat at the invitation to be ashed (along with some of the more protestant brethren, I seem to remember). Unlike them, I didn't have any theological problems with it; I just found it plain weird. Despite attending an Anglican church since the age of 7, this was my first experience.

Since then I have come to appreciate it much more. Just getting a little bit messy as I am reminded of my mortality, my sinfulness and my dependence on God seems right. At the risk of sounding like the old crusty vicars who love the seasons of the church's year, I think it's very powerful to have special days in the calendar.

Worship can get very predictable, but seasons force variety upon us. They make us think, do and pray things we might not do if we were just left to our own devices. We all have our own preferences, and the cycles of celebration, penitence, challenge and commissioning stop us getting in a spiritual rut.

So those traditional changes to Anglican services - no Gloria, no flowers in church, no 'alleluias' are actually all a way of focussing on something else. Zooming the camera in to help us think through who we are in relation to all that God is.

No need for misery, false guilt or fake humility; just a bit of honesty with ourselves and God.
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