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Welcome to St Mary's the Virgin 

A Message from Fr. Neil


The regular service on Sundays will be at 10:00 am and we will continue to be on zoom for those who would like to join in worship at a The Church offers us two Gospel readings foe Ash Wednesday.

I fully understand the choice of one of them, but the other has always puzzled me. The Gospel readings are from Matthew chapter six and John chapter eight. John’s eighth chapter has always been slightly controversial: many of the earliest surviving manuscripts do not have the first eleven verses that constitute the reading, some of them do not have the story in John at all, but place it in Luke. The story concerned is of course that of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus refuses to condemn her; many of the early church fathers worried that his leniency would encourage people to think sin does not matter.

The truth is that Jesus takes the crime and the life of the one involved so seriously he risks his own life to save her’s: if a first stone had been thrown it is highly unlikely the crowd would have stopped with the woman.

Meanwhile, the Matthean passage is from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is teaching about prayer and fasting; all well and good I hear you cry, what could be more fitting at the beginning of Lent? The difficulty comes in verse sixteen: “When you fast, do not disfigure your face like the hypocrites do…” I have never really been able to square reading that out and then inviting the congregation to come forward and have their faces disfigured with ash.


Back in the Temple in John meanwhile, after Jesus asks the crowd which of them is without sin, they disperse and he is left alone with the woman. It is difficult to imagine what her thoughts were, but it is doubtful she anticipated Jesus’ words, “Neither do I condemn you…” and yet after the enormous relief the equally enormous challenge – “…go, and sin no more.”


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