2 Mar 2022 • General news
Today is Ash Wednesday, for Western Christians it is one of the most solemn days of the year and it marks the beginning of our main period of fasting. On Ash Wednesday many Christians go to church to be marked with a cross on their foreheads. The mark of the cross is made from the ashes of palm crosses from the previous year, and as the cross we write the cross on people’s foreheads we say the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words echo the funeral service and remind us of our mortality.
This year Ash Wednesday has the added sadness of the situation in the Ukraine. We watch from afar and hear about civilians being killed and we feel powerless to help. The image of children being passed up to their mothers so that they can flee the conflict on trains remains in my mind. The fathers having to stay behind, not knowing what the future holds for themselves or their families.
The pope has asked that we use Ash Wednesday to fast for the people of the Ukraine. He asks us to fast for them, not because we believe that God needs to be persuaded to be compassionate, but to participate in God’s compassion. Fasting reminds us that what is happening in the Ukraine is the result of human evil, and the Christian belief that human evil arises out of the nature of humanity. Unlike humanists and some other religions, Christians believe that there is a flaw in our humanity that only God can overcome. As I look back over the 20th century and the opportunity to make the world better after two world wars; as I look to the failure of humanity to deal with global warming; our failure to roll out Covid-19 vaccines to the developing world; as I look at our failure to deal properly with Russia since the fall of communism because money and wealth could be made from Russian oil and gas; the flaw in our human nature appears fatal.
Having written all that, Christianity is not a religion of despair. Yes, it teaches us to look at our flawed nature, but it also gives us hope that we can overcome. Ash Wednesday is not the start of a sad season, it is the start of the season ends in resurrection and Easter hope.
We can make a difference to the people of the Ukraine. We can raise money for humanitarian relief agencies like the UNHCR. Both Lent and Ramadan (which starts soon) are times when Christians and Muslims give to charity, and we can give whatever our belief system. As individuals we can sign petitions and lobby our government to help refugees from the Ukraine: as an academy we can become a School of Sanctuary.