On a blustery March evening, under gloomy skies, combined voices lifted sublimely into the ancient stonework as the people came forward to be marked with the ashes of the past.
Admittedly, being daubed with soot is not everyone’s idea of a good time, but last night the congregation of Great St Mary’s joined with millions before, in an ancient and powerful ritual of repentance and hope.
As I sat in the pew awaiting my turn, I reflected on these basic needs of humanity and with my recent experience of a modern day funeral home in my thoughts, the phrase ‘remember that from dust you came and from dust you shall return’ was in sharper focus than ever before.
As if the B word wasn’t enough to bring constant consternation and worry, the good people of Cambridge our now being confronted with closure of Kings Parade. This week at a committee that as a former Councillor I was a member of, a decision was taken, that on the grounds of counter terrorism a trial closure should be enacted of this most historial of streets and the possible erection of security barriers or bollards. I believe one Councillor was heard to say at the committee, that we can’t approach the threat of terrorism on a wing and prayer. However, I would suggest that the prayer is both desirable and essential.
There is a risk that in a laudable desire to prevent or limit such acts of terror, we limit our own freedoms and way of life. I believe at the meeting, many raised concerns that such barriers could make access to Great St Mary’s church difficult, particularly for those who are more vulnerable
It occurs to me that in a growing atmosphere of uncertainty and turbulence, there is a real danger of responding with barriers of the heart and mind, and indeed concrete and steel. Far more than a democratic openness of spirit.
The Ash of this special Wednesday in the church’s year is created from last year’s blessed palms of Hosanna as we celebrated Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem. It is my prayer for this Lent that we take the opportunity to seek forgiveness for our narrow thinking and narrower doing and look for a more generous way of encounter with each other, as we journey through the pain and uncertainty to the joy of Easter.