A message for Ash Wednesday: Look up to the glory of God

The Rt Rev Dorsey McConnell, Acting Bishop, sent a message to all in the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney on Ash Wednesday:

Beloved in the Lord;

Today in the world’s calendar is that feast of love known as Saint Valentine’s Day.  Back in the States, this is a big deal, especially for the retail sector.  Children send silly cards to the boy or girl they have a crush on.  Wives and husbands go out for dinner, romantic partners give small gifts to each other, sweets are consumed in alarming quantities, most of them in the shape of wee hearts as a sign of love, in memory of a saint nearly everyone has forgotten and who almost certainly didn’t exist.

Yet, for Christians today is a fast, though also dedicated to love.  We gather in special places in the light of bright windows, under the gaze of saints the world has forgotten.  We pray and hear the Word of God.  Then our foreheads are marked, not with a sweet-smelling heart, but with ashes in the shape of a cross, our Lord’s own sign of love.  We confess our sins, receive forgiveness, offer peace to one another.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ, then we are sent into the world to love others as He loves us.

We Christians are a strange lot.  While everyone around us is snuggling up to their nearest and dearest, we are called to love our enemies: to send a Valentine to our ex, pray for those who trouble us, bestow the kiss of peace on the one who wishes we would just go away. All the little heart-shaped cards we send today to friends and lovers will wind up in the bin by the weekend, along with the wrappers from all those sweeties, and even the ashes on our faces will be washed off by day’s end. But the sign of love, the mark of the Cross, traced first on our foreheads in our baptism, will remain emblazoned in our souls, always calling us to this deep, mysterious love.

It is painful, my dears.  As we try to practice it, we find ourselves taking in the suffering of the world, the sorrow of those around us.  Our hearts become grafted into the heart of Christ, and we see the lives of others with a new compassion, a tenderness for their weakness in which we discover a mirror of our own. This makes us slow to judge, eager to listen. In this way, the season of Lent, which begins today, becomes a pilgrimage of love, as we hear others tell the story of their own hopes and dreams, their failures and disappointments, all under the sign of the Cross. This love can forgive every sin, heal every wound, reconcile every broken relationship, because it comes from Jesus Christ who died that we might live.  This love turns a few weeks of the calendar into a pilgrimage, one that ends in joy, but also offers joy as we go, for when we draw near to one another in this way, we come very close to heaven.

So, be blessed in this fast, and take strength for the journey.  Forty days is not long, and the occasions for love are all around us.  And should you come face to face with the one person you think you can’t possibly love, let Jesus show you how He does it, and ask Him to help you do the same.

With you, in the Lord, on the road,

The Rt Rev Dorsey McConnell
Acting Bishop
Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney