Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. A few years ago, I took ashes out into the town centre and offered ‘Ashes To Go.” – taking the ashes from last year’s Palm crosses and offering the sign of the cross to anyone who was willing to receive it. Ashes are a reminder that in the end, we all turn to dust. That reminder of our mortality, can be a signpost to turn to God, the ground of all our being.
One of my readings today was from Malcolm Guites book of sonnets, that traces the church year, with a sonnet for different seasons. He has written a sonnet for Ash Wednesday.
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross;
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands,
The very stones themselves would shout and sing,
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.
Below is a short extract of the introduction to the sonnet that he originally wrote for it when wrote it over ten years ago. He has reposted the sonnet with a new sense of urgency here on today’s blog post.
As I set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses in order to make the ash which would bless and sign our repentance on Ash Wednesday, I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares.