From ashes to the livng font

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “From ashes to the living font” by the American writer Alan Hommerding, set in the book to an old 18th century tune although it is “common metre” so there are many possible tunes to choose from.  Hommerding has written his own tune to it, which he discusses along with the words on a podcast. He explains that it was written for a particular occasion to help parishioners make sense of observing Lent, and that his intention is that during Lent we should not forget the end of the journey (Easter and Pentecost) but have them in mind throughout our spiritual journey.

The opening verse is intended to sum up the idea of the season of Lent as a journey, starting with confession and repentance (Ash Wednesday) and ending with the celebrations of Easter, traditionally a time for new believers to be baptised (symbolised by the font). 

The second calls us to use “fasting, prayer and charity” as a way to hear God’s voice in this season.   The third verse refers to the Transfiguration of Jesus, a story that occurs twice every year in the lectionary cycle, in Lent and in August. It was a key event in the spiritual journey of his closest disciples (Peter, James and John) as they realised without doubt that Jesus was the son of God, greater even than Moses and Elijah.  Few of us will have such a dramatic revelation, but hopefully we will understand something new about Jesus each year.

There are five verses in this setting, but the web page linked above gives, as well as four set verses, separate verses for each Sunday of Lent, of which verse 4 here is the one set for the third Sunday (“For thirsting hearts let water flow, our fainting souls revive, and at the well your waters give our everlasting life”) which is probably intended to go with the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria.

The last verse starts with a reprise of the opening line, but is explicit about the end of the journey: “through cross and tomb to Easter joy, in Spirit-fire fulfilled”.  We look forward in the solemnity of Lent to the resurrection and the giving of the Spirit, without which the fasting and self-denial doesn’t really make sense.