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Ash Wednesday - The Great Hope of a Season of Lament

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

The Season of lent, is a time of walking with our Lord both in the desert and on the way to the cross, and to be frank a time of lament and confession feels entirely appropriate given the grave situation the world continues to be in. We seem to be living that famous curse, living in interesting times, as the world barely beginning to recover from covid and is now faced with war and the potential for a second cold war. Today I found something that I thought spoke wonderfully into the situation. As I was printing out the new lent service sheets in the vestry and waiting for our valiant but increasingly faulty little printer to spew out 85 copies of each page I was looking at some of the stuff stored in the cupboard. Right at the top was this little book detailing the minutes of the meetings held for the Sunday School in the 1930s and 1940s. What was fascinating was seeing the change that happened as war broke out and the lights went out across Europe. There was a meeting in the autumn of 1939 talking about the arrangements for the annual Christmas party. The next entry is dated winter 1944 and the silent gap of 5 years speaks volumes. The world, rather like we have experienced the last few years and continue to experience in another way now hasn’t left much room for the planning of those wonderful things we took for granted like Christmas parties. A time of deep danger and lament the likes of which we understand better given the last few years are recorded silently in that space between meetings. That silence encompassing a time of deep national lament speaks greatly to our season of lent. Lent is a time to see the sin in our world, in ourselves and for us to lament and ask forgiveness. Ash Wednesday, when we apply the ashes of lament that also remind us of our own mortality, is our opportunity to lament for our sinful world and nature.

But that is not all Lent is about and again this little book shows it. In the next entry, winter 1944 as the war was coming to an end, the Sunday school teachers meet formally for the first time in some 5 years. It records faithfully the meeting that was planning the Christmas party. It also records that the Christmas party had never been cancelled, presumably including during those silent years of war. Despite the horror of war, the people of this church never wavered and continued, blessing the community in Cleveleys and providing for the children. A Christmas party probably sounds trivial, but let me tell you last Thursday as I was quite depressed to hear about the war beginning in Ukraine, as we did SAS club with the kids and saw them playing and learning and growing in their faith, it was clear to me just how important little things like that in dark times are. There is nothing trivial about providing for and nurturing children particularly in the darkness of war. Clearly, our predecessors continued building the kingdom one small blessing at a time, a blessing that outlasted the darkness of world war 2.

The Christian journey into Lent is one of lament, but also one of hope. Hope that is placed not in ourselves or other people or our own abilities but in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is a hope that follows Jesus to the cross. It is a hope that in the deepest darkness of the war years was never put out. It is a hope that had people attend or organise zoom worship here during the worst of the pandemic. It is a hope that inspired people to share news sheets as we isolated. It’s a hope that will meet the dreadful and evil sins of violence and destruction burning through so much of the world with little acts of kindness and love that cannot be crushed. It’s a hope that knows God will right every wrong that hope that knows that evil days will one day end. It’s is a hope that looks for the forgiveness promised after repentance, it is a hope that sees people returned to a right relationship with God, where prayers, alms, fasting are done in secret from others for the glory of God. Lent is a time to put our hope in the God who will die in the horror of Good Friday, a hope that is realised in the risen Jesus of Easter. Don’t miss the centrality of that hope in our service today. In the ashes is mixed olive oil. It is olive oil that is used to anoint and bless in scripture and in the same way we receive that same anointing. Lent is a season mixed with the ashes of lament and the oils of blessing.

At its heart the season of lent is about perseverance in hope in the face of sin and all that is evil in the world as Jesus wins the victory. Lent is about standing up no matter the cost, no matter how much comes our way, because we have faith in the Son of God, the Son of man who on the cross won the victory. The Christian hope, is so powerful that even the darkest evil cannot stand for long in its light. Lent isn’t a season of lament for laments sake, but a season of lament full of hope that seeks forgiveness, repentance and victory.

The Season of Lent is encapsulated, in that simple single phrase at the end of John 16. Jesus says to His disciple’s, only hours before His own arrest, trial and death, ‘In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’


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