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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bent

Ash Wednesday (22-02-23)

Psalm of Praise: Psalms 51:1-4

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.

Bible Reading: Isaiah 58:6-9

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter,

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’.

A Reflection:

I wonder what the word, ‘Repent’ conjures up in your mind. For me there are two images, one of the Clock Tower in Leicester, not far from where I grew up, and a man with a billboard shouting, ‘Repent for the end is nigh’. The other is a picture of a person grovelling on the floor wearing an old sack and covered in ashes. Neither really illustrates what I now understand as repentance.

A dictionary definition of ‘repent’ might be, ‘To feel pain, sorrow, or regret for what one has done or omitted to do’, but the original Hebrew definition of the word derives from the verb ‘to return’ or ‘to turn back’. It is less about a sense of regret and more about a decision to turn away from where we are and to turn back to God. To turn away from being self-centred, to become God-centred.

In this respect, wearing sackcloth and ashes may give a visual expression to others and to God of how we feel about the sin in our lives, but it does little to show a change of direction or focus.

In Isaiah’s day the nation had turned away from God and was suffering in exile. As they fasted and called out to God for help, Isaiah tells them that it is not just a one-off day of remorse, fasting in sackcloth and ashes, that is required, but a complete change of heart. What is required is an end to injustice and oppression and provision for the hungry, the homeless and the naked.

Then, he says, ‘You will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’.

On Ash Wednesday we start forty days of Lent. Instead of giving something up, or maybe as well as giving something up, why not follow Isaiah’s words and make a gift to an appropriate charity or put aside something each day to help others in need. Food banks or clothes banks for instance.

Or maybe spend some time each day ‘Calling on the Lord’ for the oppressed, the trafficked, the victims of modern slavery and those living in poverty.


Lord Jesus, as I reflect today on all you gave up for me, may my response to you not just be with words but also with actions.


Longing for light, we wait in darkness.

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