February contains two major Christian celebrations. The first on the 2nd February is called ‘the Presentation of Christ in the Temple’ or ‘Candlemas’ with links to the 5th century church as well as an ancient pre-Christian pagan celebration called the festival of light, which I explained last year. But this time, I want to get my pitch in early for something that happens on the 26th February; Ash Wednesday.
That day at services in the morning and evening, and as I travel between our three schools, I mark the foreheads of all those who want it, with crosses of ash; an ancient sign of penitence. The ashes come from the Palm Sunday crosses we blessed the previous year, which people then put up in their homes or in car sun visors, etc in the same way you might use a St Christopher pendant, and now they are returned to be burnt for ash. You can get new ones on Palm Sunday (3rd April)
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which runs for forty days. Too often Lent becomes solely a focus on the self-denial of things we enjoy, which, we suspect aren’t always good for us; how often do you see people go cold turkey with chocolate/alcohol or start a 40-day diet. That’s all well and good, but Lent is supposed to be a time of self-examination and study for us to face the reality and consequences of sin in our life and the terrible toll it takes on the world, as well as preparing us for the great celebration of Easter. Easter eggs are optional but always appreciated!
Self-examination with true integrity is tough though, which is why I usually start each day with a plea in the prayer, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me…’(Psalm 139:23-24). It also helps to travel alongside others. So why not consider coming along to some or all of our 5-week Lent Bible Study this year? It’s based around the familiar hymn ‘There is a green hill far away’. Each week we will be exploring some thoughts on each of the hymn’s verses, but also following Jesus’ journey toward that ‘green hill’ in a more traditional manner. The courses will run for 5 weeks on Mondays from 2nd Mar: 1pm at Folkingham Rectory and 7pm at a Billingborough residential address; sign-up lists are in the churches.
To assist you in this journey, symbolic nails will be available to collect near the church door from Ash Wednesday. Carry one with you through Lent; through the difficulty and darkness of self-examination. Let it act as a reminder of whose sins Jesus died for and give you the assurance and strength to know he travels alongside you now. Bring the nails back to church on Good Friday as a visible testimony of your Lenten pilgrimage.
So as Lent begins this February, my prayer is that this would be a truly blessed season, a time of genuine and significant spiritual growth for you. May God grant you a truly holy Lent.
Every blessing Neil