Life, death, luck and Lent

Standing near my trolley case,
Two men talk of life, of death,
Of luck, above my face.

These are three lines I wrote in a narrative poem on my return from South London at half term.  I was travelling mid-morning on a fast train to Victoria.  The first two shortened trains (at short intervals) had been far too overcrowded for me to board with my luggage.  When the third one arrived I opted to stand, so that I could look after my case.  This train was also packed and two men were talking to each other very close to me.  They were grey-haired grandfathers.

They travelled to Clapham Junction, so I was not eavesdropping on them for long.  One of them talked about a video on the internet showing a man, who had been standing too close to the edge of the platform, when a train came in to the station.  The train had brushed against him and he had lost his balance.  He fell between the train and the platform and was “all right”.   (There is a large gap between the train and the platform at that station.)

Then he went on to talk about someone he knew, who narrowly escaped drowning, while swimming in the sea with friends.  The rip-tide had carried them back out twice, but the third time they managed to swim ashore.  A short time later this man was killed in an industrial accident.  The speaker’s comment was, “Your number is up, but you’re with other people; we’ll come back for you later.”

They talked about luck and the talkative one said, “You can make your own luck.”

I was interested in what they had to say, partly because I was reminded of a group of men on another busy train last year.  They were on their way to a football match and discussed the recent tragic accident in which a young Australian cricketer had been hit by a ball and subsequently died.  It was a freak accident, which attracted the attention of sports fans and others around the world.  (I do not follow sport, but learned about it on Facebook!)

Jesus talked about sudden death and implied it was not a punishment for wrongdoing. Luke 13:1-5

My journey home was on Ash Wednesday and I wrote a rather poor poem (which I may rework) the following day.  It seemed a good way of recording a summary of the events of the day and the people I had met.  In the evening I ventured out to the communion service at the church, where I sing in the choir.  There is no choir for our midweek services, although hymns are sung.

The liturgy (printed order of service) for Ash Wednesday includes a long prayer with responses, known as the Litany.  The version in the Book of Common Prayer includes the words, “from sudden death. Good Lord, deliver us.”  I was interested to note that the modern translation asks God to deliver us “from dying unprepared”.

Many people would prefer to die suddenly than after a prolonged illness.  However, this is often very difficult for their friends and families.  There may be unfinished business – things left unsaid or not yet done.  The words, “live at peace” are helpful here.  We need to keep short accounts with God and people, asking forgiveness and forgiving others sooner rather than later.  In days long ago people talked about dying in a state of grace.  It is the same idea as allowing condemned prisoners a visit from a priest so they can confess their sins and be absolved.

Protestants do not believe that a priest is an essential intermediary.  We can go “boldly to the throne of grace”.  Hebrews 4:16

Lent (the season in the Christian year beginning on Ash Wednesday) is a time, when we remember our mortality.  We should not do this in a morbid way, but rather take time to reflect on our lives, our priorities and to draw closer to God, so that the peace of Christ may rule in our hearts. Colossians 3:15

Do you keep Lent?  What do you find helpful as you prepare for Easter?


Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was Pancake Day.  Anyone who didn’t notice must have been taking time away from all sorts of social and other media!  Its real name in the UK is Shrove Tuesday.  Another blogger has explained the reason for this.

Shrove Tuesday is followed by Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  This word Lent has nothing to do with borrowing or lending, but comes from an old word meaning spring.  It is a season lasting 40 days plus Sundays before Easter.

There are other important days at this time of year.  Mothering Sunday and Palm Sunday have their own traditions.  In the UK many people call Mothering Sunday “Mother’s Day” (not on same date as in the United States of America).

Just before Easter we have Maundy Thursday, the day we remember the Last Supper, which gave us the service known variously as Holy Communion, the Eucharist or Mass.  The following day is Good Friday, then Low Saturday and Easter Sunday.

So today is Ash Wednesday.

If you have met anyone with a sooty mark on their forehead, they have been to a church service where the imposition of ashes was offered.  It is a way of witnessing to people that the Christian faith is important to them.

I am not entering into any debate about whether the imposition of ashes or ashing is a good thing or not – just mentioning that it happens.  I am rather amused by the appearance on Twitter of a new hashtag for today –  #ashtag is accompanying Tweets and selfies.

There is a post, which is well worth reading on the God and Politics blog.  I have little to add to it.  I used to give things up for Lent.  Once I gave up sugar in tea and never needed it again.  Later I started to try to be more disciplined in my Bible reading and prayer.  The rationale for giving things up is that Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days and nights.  Matthew 4:1-11

Last year the vicar asked me if I was going to do anything extra for Lent, but I thought I was already at full-stretch!  This year I hope I can manage my time a bit better than of late and perhaps write more.

I am planning to attend a service of Holy Communion this evening.  I shall not be ashed.  I’m not sure whether it will even be an option.  (The ash is produced by burning palm crosses from the previous year.)

Another important date this week is Friday, which is the day known as the Women’s World Day of Prayer.  There will be a service for it in the village where I live.  Perhaps I’ll write a post about it later.