We are about to launch ourselves into Lent once more, a time of preparation for Easter and an opportunity to stop and think.
This year we have the chance to meet together on 5 March at 8.00pm in our Sister Church in Forest Hill to share in an Ash Wednesday Holy Communion which also includes a ceremony of ‘Ashing’. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and as it falls 46 days before Easter it is a moveable feast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.
According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he was tempted by the Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day period and is traditionally a time of prayer and fasting, or abstinence. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays. Sundays are not included in the fasting period and are instead joyous “feast” days during lent.
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the congregation as a sign of repentance and belonging to Christ. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
The following week, Wednesday 12 March, we begin our joint Lent course, also to be held at Forest Hill and starting at 8.00pm. The course is called ‘Build on the Rock’ and covers such subjects as ‘Believing and Doubting’ and Jesus as teacher, saviour, conqueror, Lord and Brother. Meeting together like this gives us the opportunity to explore aspects of faith we may not have seen or thought of before.
In faith, as in life, some things aren’t always obvious. As I prepare this letter I’m also working on a service about the ‘Transfiguration’ and it has struck me very forcibly this week that what was revealed to the disciples wasn’t something different but Jesus as he truly was, a glimpse of a reality they couldn’t normally see. It’s not uncommon to be blind to the reality of some things we take for granted but if we’re lucky sometimes we get a glimpse of something special and elusive.
During half term my grandson and I went on our annual pilgrimage to the Science Museum. It was so busy that he got very frustrated because he couldn’t try out the experiments in the Exploration Centre and so we decided to go to a temporary exhibition billed as the ‘Greatest Experiment’ of all time. The Large Hadron Collider which lives at CERN in Switzerland is basically a very long circular tube down which particles of energy are sent at great speed in an attempt to see what happens to them when they collide. As we entered the exhibition my ignorance became very apparent as there were huge blackboards all over the place with equations on them. As we went through the exhibition we saw amazing feats of engineering on display and a number of very excited scientists captured on film explaining that they thought had just found something very, very important, a new particle which had been predicted but couldn’t be found. It was called the Higgs Boson particle, after Professor Higgs, who first came up with the theory. Some people call it the ‘God Particle’ although not the scientist of course. We kept waiting for someone to tell us what it was but that didn’t happen or if they did we may have missed it because it was so complicated. However, we got caught up in the excitement of it all. The day they found the particle in 2012 was re-enacted for us – the Collider was operational and the reading showed that they had found what they were looking for. Wow!
Eventually we found a room where we were going to see this astounding particle for ourselves and there it was: a line on a graph with a slight bump on it. It was, to be frank, underwhelming. Yet we’re told that this discovery is very important indeed to our understanding of how the universe works. Which just goes to show that fortunately God is much easier to find and we don’t need a very expensive collider, we just need to look at, and get to know, a man called Jesus and see his reality.