Why the ash?
When I ran the Disciple’s Way course last year, lots of people asked me about the content of the course. I have not entirely been able to provide it, as discussions are still under way about a publishing format. However, with this year’s Lent course, I thought it might be helpful to publish outlines as I go along, in case people want to use some of them. Each post will give a ‘flavour’ of what went on, and include clickable links to other resources.
The subject this week was ‘penitence’, under the title ‘why the ash’? We started off looking at some famous apologies, from Nick Clegg’s sorry song, to Lance Armstrong’s Oprah interview. Groups talked about their ‘favourite’ and funny apologies. We then outlined the areas to be covered:
Penitence not penance– after looking at one or two penitent processions across Europe, we read verses from Isaiah, Micah and Luke relating to God’s preference for internal change over external show.
Mortality – we read the words addressed to a new Pope three times on his way to his inaugural mass, where he pauses by a burning stalk of flax and hears that ‘thus passes the glory of the world’. There was a passing reference to Joni Mitchell too.
Continuity – the ash is traditionally made from the Palm Sunday crosses of the previous year, of course, and thus connects the Christian year together – from last year’s jubilation to this year’s sorrow. At this point, we employed a little bit of ‘magic’ – see box below, and then prayed and listened to Malcolm Guite’s lovely sonnet for Ash Wednesday.
Resolve – we studied John 8 1 – 11 in groups, considering the behaviour of all involved, and wondering what Jesus wrote in the sand. We then looked at some practical steps for strengthening our resolve to ‘live differently’, before closing in prayer.
Pussy Willow – in places where palm crosses are not available, pussy willow branches are brought into the church on Ash Wednesday and placed in water. By Palm Sunday, they bud and flourish – a lovely reminder of God’s goodness which leads us from sorrow to rejoicing.