Lent has begun. On Wednesday, we received the ashes of last year’s palm crosses on our foreheads, as a sign of repentance. With the ashes, we heard these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent – the forty days leading up to Easter. Each year, we can choose to use Lent as a learning tool, or a time for reflection. This year, I have decided to look at it as a time of pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is a Holy journey – a spiritual journey. We could consider it as a literal journey, or a figurative one. A pilgrimage has a destination. If I am on Pilgrimage for Lent, then my destination is Easter. So, this year, I choose to make my pilgrimage a time of reflection, as I walk the metaphorical labyrinth towards Jesus’ Resurrection.

Lent can be a time when we make a commitment to some Spiritual disciplines. As a part of this effort, I am going to try to walk the labyrinth at St. Mark’s as often as possible. Would you like to join me? St. Mark’s is open most week days for prayer. I will leave a bowl at the entrance, containing some scripture passages. You might like to read and meditate on one of them as you walk. I like to walk slowly and rhythmically, thinking of the call of the gospel on my life, especially the call to follow Jesus to the cross, and beyond it to Resurrection.

For others, the Spiritual discipline of Lent may be deeper reflection on Scripture. We have an excellent reflection booklet this year, which offers some of our members’ thoughts on the Sunday gospel readings. I encourage you to explore it. I hope you have considered joining our Bible study groups during Lent. Details are here in your pew leaflet.

Today at St. John’s, we welcome Bishop Paul to dedicate our new window, which honours members of David Wright’s family, and the ministries of women in the Church. It is primarily a depiction of the Resurrection of Jesus. St. Mark’s, Bishop Paul will confirm Margaret and Fran, who are beginning a new leg of their own pilgrimages.

As I begin my pilgrimage, I look around me and see a very broken society. Everywhere, people are in pain. The terrible legacy of the abuse of power in all our institutions is like a burden of intolerable and inexplicable sorrow. Just as the pall of smoke hangs over Victoria in this frightening bushfire season, so the pall of shame and disbelief hangs over the Church. No religion is exempt. No denomination is innocent. Schools, hospitals, industry, business, nursing homes, clubs, sports, Scouts, Guides… how do we breathe in this pollution? How do we find a way to rebuild? We have lost trust in so many ways. How can we find it again?

The church, just like every organisation, is now burdened with many requirements, as we strive to comply with new laws to ensure the safety of children. It seems tedious and complex, and is very tiring. But we also know it is necessary. The bottom line is, we will not allow anyone to be harmed again! We must be vigilant. This is a part of our journey – our pilgrimage towards a better future – the promise which is Easter. Today it seems far distant: a safer society, where all people can be welcomed, loved and respected – gathered into the loving arms of Jesus Christ. Ready to follow in a new way.

Perhaps, by our prayers, study of Scripture, true worship and self-discipline, we can make this parish a place which is filled with light. Take the first step on your pilgrim way.

God bless you all