On Monday 12th
February the rain and wind abated enough for me to burn the forty-odd palm crosses that had been returned to church, making
the ash ready for use on Ash Wednesday. Of course, there is very little ash from such a large amount of crosses – the
pictures below show the palms ablaze in a large roasting tin and the resultant ash against a two pence piece.
I’ve been reflecting
on this variance between the two amounts as we have gone through the first week of Lent. Often there are things in our lives
that we put a great deal of time and effort into which don’t seem to reap much in terms of obvious results or rewards.
We find ourselves wondering, in some such cases, ‘was it worth it?’
After a promising first attempt last year, the vicar of St Paul’s, Sale, and
I decided to take to the streets again on Ash Wednesday to offer to pray with people and mark them with an ash cross, as well
as hand out some pamphlets about Lent and printed with our various Lent services over the next weeks. This year the very cold,
wet weather on Ash Wednesday meant that there was far less opportunity to engage with people, although we did manage to do
so with a few individuals. But even those who rushed on by would have seen that we were there, a very definite Christian presence
in the midst of their lives where there isn’t usually a visible one.
Was it more effort than it was worth for those of us from our two churches who stood
in the cold for half an hour or so in Ashton Village and Sale? Who can really tell: it’s very difficult to measure the
‘results’ or the ‘impact’ of such outreach events. Later in March we’ll be trying again on Maundy
Thursday, offering to polish shoes in the village on Thursday 29th at 3.00pm and in Sale
at 3.45pm (ish) and seeking to draw people’s attention to our Lord’s footwashing and his declaration that he came
not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (If you’d like to come along and join us
– or have your shoes polished, then please do!)
of what we do as Christians in terms of outreach is to sow seeds – and we can’t always know when or if those seeds
will begin to grow. The preparation I do with parents and godparents before baptism services, the sermons I preach, the courses
I lead before confirmations or during Lent – all of it is offered with the hope that God is at work in and through those
encounters: but it’s very hard to know what results such activities and efforts produce. It can be
very dispiriting on occasions when much time and effort and thought has gone into something which seems to have little, if
any, result. Yet one remains faithful to the knowledge that God is at work in his way, which is not always clear to us.
We can also look at this sort of balance
between effort and result in other ways, too. There’s a growing sense amongst many people that unless there’s
some sense or evidence of ‘result’ it’s hardly worth doing the thing in the first place. Over the years
I’ve heard many committed Christians say things along the lines of: I don’t think I’ll bother coming
to that service/course/prayer group/ Bible study as I get little out of such things. But things which impinge upon the
growth of our faith cannot always be discerned and ‘seen’ or measured. We might go to church for months, or even
years, with seemingly little ‘result’ each time we go, but find after those months/years that we have become a
very different person and have honed our faith in ways we hadn’t realised. Cultivating our spiritual growth and our
relationship with God is a slow process over our lifetime but sometimes we can become impatient with little immediate growth
When this happens we can
begin to become less and less connected to both God and the Body of Christ (his Church) and shrug our shoulders about the
things which once we found important and life-giving. The things we once held as important become hollow and empty to us.
I’m reminded of a poem by ‘Woodbine Willie’ – Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy, who was a chaplain during
WWI. It begins:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made
a couple of lines later it continues:
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
and it ends:
And Jesus crouched
against a wall, and cried for Calvary.
The poem’s title
is Indifference. I worry that many of us Christians might be growing indifferent in our attitudes because we don’t
feel we get anything immediate out of our attendance at church, or our times of prayer, or our Bible reading, or our standing
on street corners offering ash crosses or to polish shoes. May we strive in these days of Lent to try and slough off any indifferent
attitudes that have crept up on us in our lives of faith and seek to try and draw close to Our Lord, in firm expectation that
his Spirit and his love will be at work, in our lives and the life of the world around us, whether or not we are immediately
or directly aware of them.
With my prayers for a good
Lent and Holy Week,