THE Church is in the period of Lent, a period of 40 days of prayer, reflection and self-denial that provides an opportunity for a spiritual MOT.

Anyone who has been to a traditional Ash Wednesday service will recall the words used by the priest during the Imposition of Ashes: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and turn to Christ”

Our six week Lent course at our church this year has taken that instruction literally as we embark on a course called “preparing well” which focuses on death, dying and preparing well for both. Now at first blush this doesn’t sound like much of a marketing triumph. The potential for six evenings of doom, gloom and moping might sound like a hard sell. But asking questions such as “what would you like to be most remembered for after you have died ?” can be incredibly life giving.

It’s an odd thing to say but outside of funerals we don’t talk about death very much in Church. Of course every year during Holy Week and Easter we reflect on the passion of our Lord, his death and crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension but when it comes to speaking of our own mortality or what happens after we die, we rarely talk about this on any given Sunday.

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Arun Arora

One reason for this is that the society in which we live largely avoids talking about death. That is one of the reasons for the growing number of death cafés operating around the country – places where people can go to talk about death and dying long before the inevitable occurs as an opportunity to explore this most certain of outcomes and the things that come with it. Of course in church we have a particular understanding of this.

Whilst some would see death as the end of the matter for us death is simply, after all, part of our life. For Christians, dying and death are not the final act of the life story but a transition point in a story that continues.

Death is both inevitable and unpredictable. And so over the next six weeks we are going to spend time talking about death and preparing well for it from wills and powers of attorney through to care for the bereaved, palliative care through to funeral planning. Questions about the practical alongside the spiritual will be shared as we listen to one another about our cares, fears and hopes.

As the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams noted some years ago, it’s important to remember that the word Lent itself comes from the old English word for spring. It’s not about feeling gloomy for 40 days; it’s not about making yourself miserable for 40 days; it’s not even about giving things up for 40 days. Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death.

And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.

  • Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham.