One of the things which, literally, used to mark Catholics out when I was a lad was that they were the ones who, on Ash Wednesday, walked round with a smudge of ash on their foreheads. I can recall, back then, some of my fellow Baptists, going on about Matthew 6 and the ‘hypocrisy’ of parading one’s Christianity. Even back then it occurred to me to ask what we were doing to mark the beginning of the 40 days? It seems to me now a classic example of the wrong sort of proof-texting. Jesus was not talking about something like Ash Wednesday, but something like those TV Evangelists with their ostentatious praying and lifestyles. Interestingly, the practice of the laying on of ashes seems now to be more widespread, as I noticed that our local Anglican Church has done it for years.

We don’t do it at chapel, but we do have a service to mark the beginning of Lent. There were fewer there than there will be on Easter Sunday, and yet yesterday is the point at which we begin serious preparation for Easter. Our society, so obsessed with Christmas, has less use for Easter – unless you are a chocolate manufacturer. But for Christians Easter is what it is all about. Without the Cross and the Resurrection, we are not saved. It ends in great joy, but before that, there is the agony in the garden and on the Cross, and as part of my own Lent observances, I tend to focus on what Our Lord had to suffer because of me.

Because of me? Yes, it is my sins which add to the stripes he suffered; my sins which compel him to the ultimate sacrifice; my sins which nailed him to the cross; and not all the joy I feel on Easter Sunday, not all the relief that my sins are washed away, can prevent me from feeling the humility and the sorrow than comes from acknowledging my own sinfulness.

Struans wrote about some interesting books to read for Lent, and I shall take a look and see which of them to read, but I shall be doing my usual reading for Lent – the Book of Psalms and the “Pilgrim’s Progress”. I have loved that books since I first read it as a lad, and I go back to it every year at this time. Christian’s journey is the one we all take, and the trials and tribulations he encounters. I did a short series on the book last year, the first of which is here. I don’t pretend to have captured anything save the flavour and the message of one of the greatest books in the English language, but for me, the only downside of reading it for Lent is that it can hardly be described as penitential; but it is nice to add something positive to one’s spiritual life during this period. Too often we just give things up – it is nice to take something up as well.

I wish everyone here a holy and a good Lent.