40 days of what?

This coming Tuesday is known by many names, Fat Tuesday, Carnival, Pancake Day and Shrove Tuesday. It is the last day before the Christian season of Lent begins. Shrove comes from the verb to ‘shrive’, meaning to confess. Traditionally, Christians used to confess their sins and receive forgiveness before Lent began. Therefore a season exists in the church calendar which gives opportunity to prepare for the season of preparation – to be shriven before the 40 days of penitence begins on Ash Wednesday. This season is called Shrovetide, the time after Epiphany and before Lent.

The Ash Wednesday Eucharist with the imposition of ashes is at 8pm, 14th February.

The beginning of Lent is literally marked with ash. This ash being the remains of the burnt palm crosses from last year’s celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem – a salient reminder of triumphs and disasters which life provides. The ash informs us of our origin – carbon. “Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return” speaks the liturgy of Ash Wednesday as the cross of ash is imposed upon the forehead of the penitent believer. This is a solemn and profound moment in the life of the church. I would ask that you try above all things to come to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist at 8pm and begin Lent well.  By understanding the importance of living Lent well and by observing a discipline over these 40 days, the Easter mystery becomes more tangible and certainly more joyous!

Most importantly, the exciting challenge is for us to use this time of the colour purple to aid our own spiritual development. We might commit to give up a bad habit and take on something which may help others. This might mean giving more financial support to the church or to other charities (almsgiving is one of the most traditional Lenten disciplines), or attending one, two or three of our Lent sessions on becoming more ‘Christ-like’, or reading a ‘holy’ book (I can give you some recommendations – see the recent blogpost, “Happy new read” for a quick summary).

I would like to make a special plea that you use the 40 days of Lent to pray with some quite specific intentions in mind. Let me list them here:

For clarity and support for children and youth work at St Michael’s. For the courage to seek to establish a creative and safe space for the nurture of Christian discipleship for young people and their families, drawn beyond our Threshold.

For direction to evolve a new, shared ministry with St Andrew’s Church in Cutteslowe. To find people in our own church who will enable this work to be fulfilled.

For the joyous opening of the Threshold in the hope that many will be excited by the space that has been created. To ask that the local community will seize the opportunity and understand that St Michael’s is their parish church.

Will you use Lent to pray for these 3 key areas of church life, for God to release the potential that is already at hand? This would be 40 days of creativity, contemplation and courage, a corporate wave of prayer and faith which will make a real difference to our church and community. Thank you – and may you have a rich and blessed Lent.

Sunday services: 8am Holy Eucharist; 10am Parish Eucharist (with children’s church); 6.30pm Contemplative Prayer.

Ash Wednesday Eucharist, 14th February at 8pm

No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! Click here for news and the Sunday readings sheet.


Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.