Sermons from St Faith's   

Living with the Sign of the Cross

Fr John Reed, Ash Wednesday, 14th February, 2018

The forty days of Lent begin with an invite, not a requirement, or an order but a simple invite. One which can be taken up enthusiastically, with great vim and vigour, or on the other hand in a very English lukewarm sort of way.
In contrast St. Mark in Sunday's Gospel records that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  Being driven is not something that is necessarily joyful and relaxing.  But following Jesus is what causes us to respond to the invitation to Lent.  We follow in the hope that we come as not just mere followers but true disciples.  Another word we use often; discipline comes to mind.  Disciples, discipline….. working actively to follow the best way.  A way of love for God's only Son. And as we know on the 14th of February, the feast of St. Valentine, love is about passion. Kathy Galloway describes the passion of following Jesus so well;

I have loved this life so much
When every other passion died
and I walked dead through the days
in a land burned black with attrition;
only this passion, this life,
dark flame in my darkness,
came to me,
and I, visceral,
naked instinct,
sniffing its heat on the wind,
blindly groped my way towards it,
and it entered me
and it lit me with its darkness
until the land grew green and pale
and every love shone with diamond heart,
a sparkling, shimmering web stretching wide
across the branches of a tree
and it gave me back my life
Only this life

We begin Lent with a desire to follow the most passionate lover of humanity the world has seen, and like some of the interesting Lent books that sit on my study shelf, what is begun in good faith may not reach the end. One description of Lent I read to day, majors on the outward signs of prayer fasting and alms-giving.  The study of God,s word was missed out, as was the initial part of the sentence describing Lent; self examination and repentance.  We need to draw on all these things as we seek to observe “a Holy Lent” and I hope you will use some of the opportunities we have planned at St Faith,s and in the surrounding churches during Lent. Regular self -examination will remind us of the need for repentance.  Erring, or getting it wrong is a necessary but uncomfortable part of being human in a world of other humans.  Love responds with forgiveness, the forgiveness that Jesus shows on the cross.

Later we will come to receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads, the cross in the very place where we received the cross of baptism. The cross that speaks of discipleship, a life long journey in the steps of our Lord and Saviour, that will take us from here to eternity.

And the ashes; that dust which is left when everything else is gone. A reminder in the final analysis that we are mortal beings with a finite life. But also a reminder that God takes the very dust of the earth and creates life from it.  As Jan Richardson puts so well;

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Lent is season for opportunities, a chance to learn more of, the way of love that Jesus treads with us, a chance to find out what the love of God is doing with you.  And never forget we are not called as individuals, but as a whole people living with the sign of the cross of Jesus on our foreheads.


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