“What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy. “Help,” said the horse. “When have you been at your strongest?” asked the boy. “When I have dared to show my weakness.”
And so the gentle conversation goes throughout their journey, across the pages of Charles Mackesy’s beautiful book, “The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse.”
Ash Wednesday has much to say of weakness, and in an honest account of his own life when writing to the Church of Corinth, St Paul mentions an unnamed weakness of his own which he describes as a ‘thorn in the flesh.’
“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
A cross is traced on our forehead, a mark made in ashes. ‘Remember you are dust and to dust shall you return,” says the priest. Ash Wednesday. We are weak and fragile with a propensity to sin, to make a mess of the world, of our lives. None of us is immune to mistakes, or behaving in a way that causes hurt and harm to others and ourselves. Perhaps, at times, our sense of sin is too narrow. It seems, at times, that we are nothing but dust.
“To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often,” wrote St John Henry Newman, and so the slow process of change begins afresh each day, gaining fresh impetus during Lent, our lives alive with possibility during this, the ‘Springtime of the Church.’
“To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often”St John Henry Newman
Into the dust and ashes, and the need to change, comes the Eucharist, described by Clement of Alexandria as ‘the Medicine of Immortality.’ In a world where sickness and death surrounds us, the Eucharist calls us back to our hope and destiny: to live with God for ever. We can’t do this by our own merits but only because God wants it and wills it. Through the death and resurrection of Christ new possibilities emerge, the possibility of heaven, a taste of which is given in the Eucharist.
As Jesus visited those who were sick, as he went to the bedside of Simon’s Mother in Law, called to the home of Jairus’s daughter, so too he visits us, he dwells with us, he comes to help and heal. In our sorrow we draw close to his sorrow. In our weakness, we cling to the cross of Christ who takes away the sins of the world.
“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’2 Corinthians 12:8
One of the silent prayers the priest makes before receiving Communion asks that it may be for us “a healing remedy.” We are human beings susceptible to sickness and pain, to sin and weakness. We are fragile and sometimes afraid. We bring these fears and our own fragility to Christ in the Eucharist. We reach out to him who comes to us, he hears our cries for help.
“I’ve realised why we are here,” whispered the boy. “For cake?” asked the mole. “To love,” said the boy. “And be loved,” said the horse.
God is Love, and the Eucharist is the food of love, a beautifully prepared and delivered meal, alive with possibilities, filled with meaning, the Medicine of Immortality.
It strengthens us in our weakness, fulfils our hunger, quenches our thirst, lifts our eyes and hearts beyond the here and now to give us a taste of heaven.
This is one of a series of 40 Meditations on the Mass for Lent 2021 from the Parish of Cardiff St Mary the Virgin