Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Ash Wednesday

Give, pray, and fast are Our Lord’s clear instructions in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6 & 16-18) - but with an important caveat. Give, pray, and fast, but not to draw attention to yourself, not because you want a reward.
There are plenty of people in our church who give very generously, some of money, some of time, some of both. It’s worth remembering at this point that you may not know who they are, so if you are occasionally quick to criticise people who work behind the scenes, perhaps you might pause for thought. We all give something, and the onus on us in Lent is not to ask what other people are giving, but what more we can give ourselves. 

Prayer does not need to be done with great exuberance, arm-waving and rolling round in the aisles to prove to everyone how holy you are, but it does need to be done. And so Lent is not the only time we focus on prayer, but a reminder to put our entire prayer life back into order for the longer term. I have spoken before about the Anglican pattern of regular Mass, the Office of daily morning and evening prayer, and private prayer (“MOP” for short). The first, you can do here; there are resources for the second online; and the third, we can think more deeply about in Lent. As a start, I would strongly suggest keeping some sort of prayer diary with the names of people or organisations or causes you want to pray for (1) every day, (2) weekly and (3) monthly - then spend a few minutes each day on your knees praying for them.

Of the three, fasting is probably the most forgotten these days. Let’s be clear from the start that this is not just a “Roman Catholic thing.” Our own Book of Common Prayer very clearly marks days of abstinence, and Archbishop Cranmer was keen to encourage them. For those who are physically fit enough to do so, certainly Ash Wednesday and Good Friday should be kept as fasts, focussing your mind on Christ’s sacrifice by eating only one full meal in the day, and having one or two very light meals to keep you going if you must. You might also consider giving up something, such as meat, on Fridays throughout Lent, and further on in the year - the Ash is not just for Wednesday. 

None of this - giving, praying or fasting - is going to earn you a place in heaven. Our Lord has already done that for us on the Cross. What it is, however, is an expression of our gratitude to Him for His Sacrifice, and a way of staying ever mindful of it so that we can respond to his love and change our lives for the better: for God hates nothing that he has made and gives perfect remission and forgiveness to who are truly penitent of their sins. 

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