'Be thankful, choose justice, and look for God’s presence' – a homily for Ash Wednesday 2021


First published 17th February 2021

A homily for Ash Wednesday delivered by Revd Simon Taylor.

“I’m not going to give anything up for Lent this year.”

That’s a refrain I’ve heard from quite a lot of people. During this time of pandemic we’ve all given things up. Some have had a very hard time with illness, bereavement, losing jobs. It was almost a year ago in the middle of Lent last year, that we entered the first lockdown. It sometimes feels to me as if we’re stuck a time of fasting, waiting and longing for a time of feasting and celebration to begin.

Maybe that’s you as well. Or maybe you find the season of giving up helpful. Either way, let me suggest three Lenten practices that help us go deeper into the season. My suggestion for Lent is this: be thankful, choose justice, and look for God’s presence. Be thankful, choose justice, and look for God’s presence.

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the traditional Christian practice is to receive a cross of ash made on your forehead with the words ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’. It’s a reminder of our mortality, a reminder that we shall all die. And it is done, not so that we can go about being miserable and morbid, but so that we focus and properly enjoy the lives we have been given. We remember our mortality so that we can be thankful for the life we have, and remember to enjoy it. This Lent, let’s be thankful what we do have, however curtailed, and let’s remember to enjoy it!

Be thankful and choose justice. One of the Ash Wednesday readings recounts God saying to his people that “the fasting I want you to do is to choose justice, to get rid of exploitation, to cancel debts, to feed the poor, and to house the homeless” (Isaiah 58.6-7). The pandemic has shown us clearly that some of us struggle to feed our families, that those with the least are the most vulnerable to being ill, and that racism is still at work among us. God is very clear – choose justice! So this Lent, find one thing to do that will increase justice in the world. It might be to support a foodbank, or to befriend someone very different to you, or to challenge discrimination when we see it. Choose justice – that is the fasting that God wants.

Be thankful, choose justice and look for the presence of God.  All that we do in Lent is about looking for God’s presence. God is with us. That is what we celebrate at Christmas, and it doesn’t change in Lent. But we can acknowledge that there are times when it is hard to see God present with us. This Lent, find some time each day or each week to look back and see when you noticed that God is present with you.  Brother Lawrence spoke of the need to practice the presence of God, to talk with God throughout the day and listen for God’s response. Lawrence said that to practice the presence of God would strengthen us in hope and set us aglow with the fire of love.  

So go deep this Lent. Be thankful, choose justice and look for God’s presence. And may God bless you through this time of Lent and bring you to feast and to celebrate in the joy of Easter!