Easter, on the other hand, is about hope, a quality which all of us feel the need of, especially in a world where so much seems fragile and uncertain. So if Ash Wednesday is the beginning and Easter Day the conclusion of Lent, what is the connection and how do hope and repentance hold together?
In church services on Ash Wednesday people are often given the opportunity to be marked with ash. A minister draws a cross on the forehead and says: Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. The ash a symbol of dust is a reminder of our mortality; that life is short and fragile. On the face of it there does not seem much hope about this.
In our age, the wonders of science have enabled us to speak the language of the Bible in a fresh way. Human beings are indeed made of dust the dust from stars. The elements which make up the earth are formed in the heart of stars billions and billions of years ago; Joni Mitchells song, Woodstock, made famous by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, refers to human beings as stardust. Echoing the words used in church, the narrative of science tells us that we will return to dust, and not only human beings but all creation; everything in the universe is destined to fade out. This narrative can feel profoundly depressing and evacuate use of a sense of hope.
Deep within the human soul we feel that there must be more. The events of Easter stand as a sign and declaration that there is more and that the universe is not a wonderful but eventually futile project.
At the centre of Easter is a singular human being, Jesus of Nazareth, whose life, death and resurrection from death gives rise to a different narrative and leads us into a very different mind-set and lifestyle. To repent literally means to set our minds and attitudes in a new direction and recognise the faithfulness of God.
The resurrection is an announcement that death and decay will not have the last word in God's creation.
The Christian faith holds out an invitation to align our own living and dying with that of Jesus Christ and to experience the Spirit of hope, good news and determination that characterised his life.
In recent months we have mourned the passing of many well-known figures who have impacted our lives: David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Terry Wogan, to name three. Many of us will also have lost friends and close relatives.
Easter tells us that there is a unique historical figure whose life and death have not only made a difference to our past, but changed our future. To repent is to be transformed by this hope not just once but regularly and to receive it as the amazing good news it truly is. May I wish you a very special Easter.
This article first appeared in Swindon Link