February already, and this year it brings in Lent absolutely in the middle: 14th! Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day coincide and the countdown to Easter starts. There will be the usual Area Ash Wednesday service at Broxbourne at 8.00pm on Ash Wednesday.
Death and suffering are things that our generation associates with illness or age, rather than violent action. By and large these hard things of life are shielded away from view. They were very real for St Valentine, and exceptionally real for Jesus. We never see such suffering, but doubtless it goes on in hidden places of torture and oppression. Because we don’t see, perhaps our imaginations are not as acute as they might be.
A few years ago the National Gallery ran an exhibition entitled ‘Seeing Salvation’. The art that was produced in the violent times of history was violent art: here were artists trying to work out the horror of what was around them. Looking today we may think it was horror for horror’s sake, but probably not: it was a way that people were able both to come to terms with and to cope with what they saw around them. The visual enabled the outworking of emotion, and sanity to be grasped again. When seen in the face of Jesus painted upon a canvas, comfort was found in realising he suffered on our behalf and strength was found to go on living. Something of an off-loading was enabled: the symbol was an important aid to life.
The two special days at the start of Lent, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, are full of symbolism that should help us in the way we live. They are, as it were, the start of a spiritual spring-clean. Shrove Tuesday gives the opportunity to have a final fling: the traditional using up of rich foods before the more austere Lent period. The Tuesday makes the Wednesday starker, with its destruction of last year’s Palm Crosses in the fire, and the blackening of hands or forehead as a symbol of all that is wrong in our lives, all that we want God to cleanse us from, all that we want to off-load. Then the time of Lent should allow us (and we should indeed take the opportunity) to find a new focus on Jesus, ‘the author and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12), a new honesty before him of what our lives are like, and so to arrive at Good Friday and Easter day in a new relationship with God, having off-loaded the things we’d rather God didn’t know about (but he does, of course!) and so be able to have a deeply meaningful Easter celebration.
The grey, often damp and depressing days, of February encourage us to look ahead to the bright days of full spring and summer, so too the season of Lent encourages us to look ahead to the brightness of Easter and the new life that God shows to us at the empty tomb.
Bless you all!