Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This forty-day season leading up to Easter is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection and fasting. Though few people actually fast for Lent these days, many do give up something they enjoy.
Some churches hold an Ash Wednesday service where people have the mark of the cross made in ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance. It’s a ceremony that recalls the ancient practice of putting on sackcloth and ashes to acknowledge sins and to show sorrow for them.
In day-to-day life, admitting we’ve made a mistake is not always an easy thing to do. Instead we protest that ‘it wasn’t my fault,’ and we look for someone else to blame. Blaming someone else is actually something that society encourages us to do. Only the other day I was handed a leaflet that asked: ‘Have you had an accident in the last eighteen months that wasn’t your fault?’ That’s just one symptom of the so-called ‘a blame-culture’. Of course, it’s not an entirely new thing – as long as there have been people, there have been people to blame! As the old story goes: Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on!
Now there are times when people have a good case for blaming others. But we can’t always point the finger at someone else - sometimes we are at fault. We need to recognise that and take responsibility for our own actions – responsibility before others and before God.
That, I think, is what Lent is about. Giving up something for Lent can be helpful, but it can also just become a re-run of our failed New Year’s resolutions. For Lent to be really meaningful we need to do more than ‘give up’ - we need to be honest enough to ‘own up’.
Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland