The day after Shrove Tuesday (a la Pancake day) is Ash Wednesday. It seems that this is either noted in ecclesial circles with an Ash Wednesday Service including the Ashes or is forgotten about altogether.
It may not have strict biblical foundations but it can be seen as providing symbolic resonance to the start of Lent. As we acknowledge our own mortality, look for the strength of God to keep us going through this period of personal reflection, as we seek to mirror Jesus’ time in the wilderness, are we missing out if we don’t receive ashes?
We (Revd Nancy White, the Associate Minister from the Todmorden United Benefice, and myself, the Community Minister from the Todmorden Central Methodist Church ) went out on the market square near to Todmorden Market to invite people to receive the symbolic mark of ashes, the sign of the cross, the symbol of our salvation. The reactions were really positive!
Despite the rain we offered the ashes, explained the reasoning and significance, and highlighted the symbology they provided. It was interesting to hear from one person, a declared Pagan, who explained about the Willow, and we discussed the possible similarities between these periods of time in the year. We spoke with Muslims and chatted about fasting (see last post), explaining what the mark represented. However, for those of no faith the reaction was astounding. They really wanted to engage with it or have nothing to do with it at all. Possibly past encounters with church may have influenced their thoughts, for others ‘ashing’ was not part of their experience at all but for many they wanted to understand what it represented.
The local Anglican Church agreed to bless the ashes this morning at St Peter’s Church at Walsden and we added glitter (edible) to give it sparkle. For some people, although we didn’t meet any who wished to raise the topic, this might be seen as sacrilegious or dismissing the solemnity of the sign. For the LGBT community it was suggested it could offer a sign of inclusion. For us it also symbolized the many facets of humanity and that we can have love for all people. The ashes were used at the formal Ash Wednesday service at St Mary’s Todmorden in the evening.
you create us from the dust of the earth
grant that these ashes may be for us
a sign of our penitance
and a symbol of our mortality;
for it is by your grace alone
that we receive etenral life
in Jesus Christ our Saviour, Amen
It was also a time of demonstrating ecumenical partnership, Anglicans and Methodists working together, thumb and thumb.