Tonight, those of you who want to will walk up to the altar rail, and I will trace the sign of the cross on your forehead in ash, as I say ‘From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Turn from sin and be faithful to Christ’.

This ‘ashing’ is a symbol, not only of our mortality, but as we have our foreheads smeared with dirt, it is a reminder that our lives are often not what we hoped they might be. That, far from bearing light, truth, life and peace to the world, we are capable of dirt, and of darkness.

Ash Wednesday, and the season of Lent reminds us how far we all fall from God, that we are both mortal and fallible. But far from being depressing, this season is life giving, because it reminds us too that our mortality and fallibility need not have the final word.

In becoming a human being, the Son of God embraces our ashes, our lives of dirt and grime, and through the power of his holy and indestructible life, he cleanses and transforms, he heals and forgives. Human mortality and fallibility need not have the final word, because God’s love is a more powerful force, and a truer word.

This Lent may we learn to be honest both about our finitude, but also about our failings, and as we step into the light, may we know God’s healing and forgiving love.

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

                                                                      George Herbert