Ash Wednesday 2020

The Church has begun its annual season of Lent:  the time of preparation leading up to the festival of Easter the greatest of all Christian celebrations.  We can never separate this period upon which we are embarking today from the celebration of Easter, just as we can never separate Easter itself from the festival of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit, which is celebrated seven weeks later.  We have begun the one journey, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Pentecost Sunday:  our annual celebration of what is most important in our Christian life:  the death and resurrection of Jesus.  

As Christians we are particularly mindful that we are constantly on a journey ‘from’ something and ‘towards’ something – ultimately that journey from death to life, which is the movement we celebrate in the affirmation of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter.  How might we understand this journey more personally for us?  Some years ago, Pope Benedict put this journey in these extraordinary words:  “. . . Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this:  to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness and his friendship . . .” [1]

Our fasting, our almsgiving and our prayer, those activities which we practice during this time as a sign of our commitment to an ongoing conversion of life, seek in their own way to open our hearts to something more than just ourselves.  As we die to the selfishness of our hearts and rise to a life more open to others then the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection manifests itself more fully in us.

At the end of such a tumultuous period of bushfire and destruction in our landscape, we place ash on our forehead. The ashes on our head replicate the ash that lays around us.   But Lent is the time to be honest once again about the ash that exists in our own lives, too:  the ash of fear, the ash of anger and bitterness, the ash of loneliness, the ash of resentment, the ash of hurt and pain – all of those things that keep us enclosed within ourselves.  As for our Australian landscape, alll of us have been burnt in our life:  we all have had experiences which have metaphorically burnt us, perhaps even scorched us.  Whatever, we have all had those experiences which have left us with a residue of ash – this summer especially.

But now is not just a time to wallow in the ashes.  It is a time to sift through the ash to look for the spark of life which is still there.  That spark is our hope, our desire to keep moving forward, what remains of our dream, our trust, our courage, our faith.  Lent urges us to retrieve this spark and to kindle it anew, to allow the regeneration and new life to come through the charred remains. In some ways our lives are like the bush which even requires the fire at times to regenerate itself.

If we do this at this time during at the symbol of ash is central, then the new life which bursts forth on Easter night in six weeks’ time will have real meaning for us.  It is the both the promise and the joy which awaits us – new life from our charred hearts.

[1] Benedict XVI, “The Justice of God has been Manifested through Faith in Jesus Christ,” Lenten Message for 2010, (5 February 2010)

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