In what can only be described as serendipity, I had to make a trip to the Supreme Court yesterday and saw on my way that St James King Street was holding a Choral Eucharist with the Invocation of Ashes later that evening. The timing was just perfect, allowing me to finish work, have a celebratory beer with a work colleague and then walk across the city. Had I not had to go to the Supreme Court (and I rarely do, since most of my engagements are in the Downing Centre Courts) then I would never have known that the service was on.
I must admit that I've never been inside St James King Street before, but I was very impressed with what I saw. While lacking the grandeur of St Mary's Cathedral, there was a real understated elegance about the church. No Mary's and no huge crucifix in the centre. Just a lot of candles. Just the way I liked it.
As the service began the procession entered with the mysterious smell of incense. Not long after the choristers began singing in earnest. They sung the forbidden music which must not be sung within the walls of St Andrew's Cathedral in a liturgical context. I closed my eyes and let the harmonies seep into me as I was thankful to God for his gift of music and thankful that such music could still be heard in at least one church.
We had a few Bible readings before we received an ash on the foreheads in the sign of the cross as a sign of our repentence. I reflected upon my sins of the past years, some of which I was still struggling with. We then received the Eucharist from the same bread and the same cup. All and sundry came to share regardless of their age, sex or calling in life. It was an appropriately solemn occasion.
As the service ended and we walked out, we discovered that it was pouring down with rain. As I walked to the bus stop on George Street, I was quite appropriately baptised in the torrential downpour. It seems to be quite fitting, both as a sign of our mourning, and as a sign of a new birth and a new start. All that is own has become new.