21st February 2021, Canon Marion Russell, Psalm 25:1-9, Mark 1:9-15

Season of Lent 2021: First Sunday of Lent 

Psalm 25:1-9; Mark 1:9-15

Canon Marion Russell, 21st February 2021


God takes the initiative!

Come, Holy Spirit, come and reveal to us the Father’s love through Jesus. 

God takes the initiative! 

We see that with the heavens being divided at Jesus’ baptism, and the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove, the proclamation of these words, “This is my son, the delight of my life.”

God takes the initiative! 

The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to be tested, to be sustained by angels and wild beasts. 

God takes the initiative! 

Jesus goes out and proclaims the good news, “The time has come - Kingdom of God is near.”

And God takes the initiative with us in Lent! 

We begin Lent presenting ourselves to God to work in us – as we are, 

  • not as we want to be, 
  • not as we think we ought to be.   

As we are

Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, Wednesday of last week, 40 days excluding Sundays that lead us to Easter. To say, 

“Here I am Lord. Here we are. 

Prepare us for what You are doing. Will You take the initiative?” 

But Ash Wednesday starts with a bit of a shock, because it takes us to our mortality, our humanity, our frailty, the things that we can’t do. 

We’re confronted with ash. (show and feel ash)

Ash – fine, with bits of grit. Ash that leaves its mark on our fingers. (show fingers) Last year’s Palm Crosses, taken from the time of triumph of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem, are burned to ash. Our humanity and our frailty. 

With the words – “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

And it is into this that God takes the initiative.

In Psalm 25, the first 9 verses, we have trust in God, a trust that can only happen because God has already taken the initiative, to meet us in our frailty. 

To You O Yahweh I lift up my soul. O my God, I put my trust in You. 

Yahweh, make your ways known to me; teach me Your paths. 

Set me in the ways of Your truth and teach me

For You are the God who saves me.

This prayer can only be real, because God has already taken the initiative.   The initiative for our frailty, our humanity.  

There’s a paradox, that as we recognise our frailty, as we face our mortality, this opens the way for God to work in us. There’s an acceptance in the frailty, in the dust and ashes. It’s not a fatalistic acceptance but a realisation that this is here we are. Those who fail, those who make mistakes, those who are not all-powerful...

And into this God takes the initiative. 

“You are the God who saves me. “

Traditionally on Ash Wednesday oil is mixed with the ash. Oil, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, God at work within us. The colour, the texture of the ash is transformed by the oil.  Isaiah proclaims- “You give me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” 

You are the God who saves  me.

Whatever we’re feeling of the pain of this last year; the apparent futility and loss; whatever our personal circumstances; whatever our personal weaknesses: 

“You are the God who saves me.”

Lent is a time to lay our frailties, our concerns, our questions, our anger, before God and let the oil of the Holy Spirit be mingled with our dust. 

The mark of Christ, the cross, is made on us as we turn to God’s glorious initiative (make mark of cross with ash on back of hand) 

It was in baptism that the sign of the cross was made on us in oil – “Christ claims for you for his own. Receive the sign of the Cross.”

In Lent, on Ash Wednesday whether you were then or whether you come now, we take our frailty in ash before God. We ask Him to breathe into us that breath of life – to let God take the initiative. What is it in us that secretly haunts us, that publicly holds us back? the grief? The doubt? The shame? The fear? 

All these are held within the power of those words “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” 

This is not a condemnation! It is a release! 

In the words of the funeral service, we remember the words,” dust to dust, ashes to ashes in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. God breathes life into us. 

His faithfulness is already there.

And so comes the second part of that couplet 

“Turn away from sin and be faithful unto Christ.” 

This isn’t us making something happen. This is us with the mark of the cross on us, the beauty of Christ already at work within us. We come, and instead of bewailing our misery, we look to the One who saves us the One who is already faithful to us, the one who has taken the initiative for our sins to be cleansed. 

The work of salvation is already complete.  God has taken the initiative. The Lord invites us to response to that initiative! 

To turn to him, to stand open-handed, open hearted, to receive and be filled with the utter joy of Christ’s faithfulness to us! 

Where in our lives this lent, individually, in our life together, in our world, might we want the Lord to take the initiative? 

Let us be faithful to receive Christ’s faithfulness to us. 


The Lord enrich you with his grace,

and nourish you with his blessing;

the Lord defend you in trouble and deliver you from evil;

the Lord accept your prayers,

and absolve you from your offences,

for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.