Ash Wednesday. The start of Lent.
I was chatting to a colleague about giving things up for Lent. Confessing that it wasn't part of my personal pattern she asked me what it was I would give up if I was the sort who gave things up. This is the kind of deeply philosophical question that makes me like people more.
But the reason she was asking me was so she could tell me what she thought I ought to give up. This makes me like people less. She thought I should give up sarcasm - my knee-jerk response to make a joke at someone else's expense every time they spoke. Which was pointed, and probably a little bit true.
So I did. Failed three times, but thought more carefully about not putting people down for fun. Did me good.
As Easter approached, and the chocolate-starved eyed their wrapped eggs with longing, I wondered how I would celebrate the end of my fast.
I could not finish my Easter services and then leap in the car tearing round the parish in acts of drive-by rudeness. I had to let that Lent make a difference - for ever.
Imagine giving up theft for Lent and then robbing sheds again. Or stopping using your mobile whilst driving - until Easter. Don't give up something for Lent if you should give it up for good.
Tonight in a quiet service I will ash people, placing a mark on their foreheads as a reminder that from dust we all came and to dust we will all return. Those words are followed by:
'Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.'
Ash Wednesday teaches us our place in the whole scheme of things.