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Turning aside – Revd Dr Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

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Preacher: Revd Dr Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Title of sermon: Turning aside, A Homily for the Solemn Eucharist on Ash Wednesday

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Date/time/service: Wednesday 2 March 2022 


I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it.

But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now that I must give all that I have
to possess it.  

Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Not my words but those of RS Thomas, from his poem The Bright Field. This poem captures in words the image of the sun breaking through a dull welsh sky, lighting up a lowly field- a sight so enchanting that it calls us to turn aside and look and absorb that moment of glory being revealed. Brown clay and soil and earth and dust is elevated to take on the mantle of a priceless gem, a pearl of great price, a treasure, in a landscape of gilded furrows.

That idea of turning aside and of turning, is a pertinent one for us today. Perhaps, as we race through life and we hurry on to our receding futures and hanker after our imagined past, we fail to see Gods’ light breaking through around us and within us.

Far from turning aside we rush onwards at speed, hurrying, hankering, caught up in the pace which the world sets for us, constantly ‘ON’, always doing, running, speeding, sending, self-obsessing, oblivious to small miracles coming to birth all around us, failing to take time for the things that matter, not hearing the voices that need to be heard, not noticing the hungry, the naked, the afflicted.

What if life was about turning aside? What if we made a conscious decision daily to turn, to turn towards Christ, and be faithful?

What if we made some effort to turn away from ourselves, and have eyes and hearts open to noticing, perceiving, taking things in, being observant about the world and its needs? Putting others first, making time to stop, and wait, and seek-out God’s presence and see the light breaking through?

What if life was about turning aside? What if life was about turning away from sin, from all that mars God’s image within us, and turning towards Christ? So that we might be strengthened to re-build, to repair, to heal, to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, so that the fast that we choose goes deeper than a mark on our forehead?

We are offered the chance to turn aside for a while- recognizing our mortality, understanding where we have come from and where we are going, coming to appreciate the preciousness of life itself: from dust we come and to dust we shall return. How then shall we use this gift of life in between? How will we honour this life in those around us? How will we work for this life in a world which constantly tries to diminish it through prejudice, hatred, violence, and now war?

During Lent, day by day we commit ourselves to use the gift of life we have been given, the life between the dust and remember that the dust from which are all made, and the dust to which we will return- is indeed holy ground.

We are called to turn aside and take a moment to pray, so that even in the dust and dirt there may be hope and light, even in the rubble of a building, in food scarce and yet shared, in underground shelters, in the cries of refugees, we pray that there may yet be hope and light. In our weeping world, we pray that the light will break through and we may notice it when it does.

Instead of hurrying on to a receding future, instead of hankering after an imagined past- instead of being oblivious to all that is around us, we are all being called to turn aside and through the brown clay and earth and soil and dust, to notice the treasure before it’s too late.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.


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