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Lent Reflections (1) Ash Wednesday

During Advent 2011, I undertook a discipline of writing daily an 'off the cuff' reflection on the Bible verses used in the Northumbria Community morning prayer cycle.  In the real world, I had a lot of positive feedback, people said they found it helpful and useful.  That encouraged me, not least because at times it was "flippin' hard work" trying to find something constructive to say.  However, despite the hard work, and despite the fact that I will probably at some point wonder why I decided to do it, I have decided to do something similar for Lent, but this time using the RCL daily readings.  Again, nothing deeply pondered, nothing clever, just my immediate 'reader response' to these ancient and powerful words.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

These must be some of the best known, and most overworked passages of scripture there are... in Joel a call to 'rend the heart not the clothes', in Isaiah the call to 'God's chosen fast' which equates to justice, in the Psalm David's confession and repentance following his adultery with Bathsheba, in the gospel the call to beware public piety and outward display but instead to pray privately and fast unobserved.  All these we know well.  To each of these we nod sagely in agreement.  And every one of them we struggle to live out.

I have not mentioned the epistle yet... it is a pretty well known chunk but not a neat reference to fasting, justice or piety:

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see - we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2Cor5:20 - 6:10 NRSV)

If I remember correctly, the motto over the door of Bristol Baptist College says, in Greek (of course!) 'We are Ambassadors'... The image of the Ambassador as the generous host offering ferrero rocher chocolates is an unhelpful one, suggesting material wealth and opulent life-styles.  It is about as far removed from the image portrayed here as is possible.  These ambassadors for Christ  are also servants of God who have known life in the raw.  We need to be careful of elevating suffering as somehow evidence of piety, but I don't think that's what this passage says.  It seems more like a sense that the badge of the ambassador lies in the authenticity of struggle, the ability to empathise with others.  Sure, the writer waxes lyrical as he warms to his theme, but in here are very earthy things we can all relate to...

afflictions (perhaps illness/injury)



sleepless nights (perhaps due to anxiety)

In these things, as well as in the overtly spiritual things, we are ambassadors, representatives in a 'foreign' culture for Christ.  Perhaps in Lent, as well as the 'giving up' and 'taking up', as well as the 'repenting' and 'preparing' we do do well to keep a bit of 'present-mindedness' in our own realities, whatever they are, knowing that God is a god of the whole of life.


Ash Wednesday,

Marked for some by a daub of cremated palm mixed with olive oil

Sign and symbol of a penitential season

Looking back to past Paschal observances

And forward to more.


Solemn beginning of the fast

The giving up



(For a while)

The pleasures of life

To try

(and probably to fail)

To be more holy

More ready

When Passiontide arrives


Ordinary day

In the middle of the week

When aches and pains

Anxieties and fears

Tragedies and accidents

Everyday tasks

And hum-drum routine

Occupy our waking hours


The Ambassador

Does not bear

Gleaming platters of foil wrapped sweets

(Lest she should spoil her guests)

But rolls up her sleeves

And plunges her hands into the washing up bowl


Kneels in the dirt

And picks up the discarded flower






(or not)


This is the fast and this the feast

This piety in public and private space

This is Ash Wednesday


God of grace, at the beginning of Lent, show us, one step at a time, how we may walk confidently and unashamedly in the messy and grubby paths of life, as Ambassadors of Christ.  Amen.



  • Great stuff, especially the prayer.

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