Only grey ashes remain after blazing fires consume logs and kindling, a vast transformation from the stately trees they once were. Frail wisps of recollections about what once was. Layers upon layers of soot ready to blow away in the wind.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ (Gen. 3:19b)
With the speaking of these words, a forty day journey towards holy week begins tomorrow in many branches of the church. These sober days of prayer and fasting signal our common struggle to come to terms with the truth of who we are and our need to be set free from layers of lingering ego defenses so resistant to exposure and expulsion.
The season of lent invites us to look beneath the surface of self satisfaction to present ourselves upon an altar where that which needs to be changed in us is burned and blown away. The glory of God’s image can then become more visible in our lives, relationships can be healed, and a new peace can settle in our hearts.
Ashes placed on foreheads, dark smudgy marks in the shape of a cross, signify a willingness to both own and disown the disjointed corners of our hearts through self examination and confession; to claim the stark vulnerability of our human condition with humility in light Jesus’ suffering on our behalf to join us to himself; to embark on a greater discovery of the depth of God’s pure and perfect love when recognizing more clearly the depth of his mercy towards us.
Servant leadership holds many opportunities to reflect to us the true state of our spirits if we will be sufficiently courageous to take a look at the mirrors they provide.
Little mindedness in minding the slights of others. Less loving than the lovely person we would like to be. Lip service to too many things to mention.
Can you sense the relief it would be to name what is there, already known by God, already covered at the cross? Lay whatever it is down to be consumed in his incomprehensibly holy love, and assume a new understanding of what it means that it was while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Counter intuitively, confession is good for the soul!
Little moments when we would like others to hold themselves to the same standards they hold their leaders. Less generousity than a full and free dispersion of that with which we have been entrusted. Lip service which is just that … moving lips with an unmoved heart.
The tension of not liking what we may see could get in the way … draw near the flame. Pretension leaves us walking as wooden robots on tightropes … draw near the flame.
While the heat, light and flame of divinely guided introspection may initially cause our egos pain, the resulting gain of freedom and release sets a holy fire in us which creates a crown of beauty to shine with integrity as authentically integrated persons in step with him.
Jesus was crushed and consumed as the perfect sacrifice for us, alive now forevermore.
The flame will not harm you.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61: 1-3)
The gracious yet gravely difficult invitation of lent is to remember and return; to be re-membered in wholeness and to re-turn whole-heartedly to the winsome gaze of Christ wooing us to move beyond our natural selves to let our old nature die; to let it go up in the smoke of his holiness and become the oaks of righteousness he call us to be through his work for us on the cross.
Let there be no cross purposes left untouched. Let him touch you afresh with his love.
‘Holy Spirit, as we participate with your grace, incinerate anything which keeps us from living fully in the flame of your holy love with the new life we have been given in Jesus Christ.
And for those who have become accustomed to putting forward a face they feel they must, or toughened by untoward judgements, or softened by hard cultural expectations, dust away fear and enable them to trust you to shape and sustain a greater integrity and a greater joy in the gospel. May the ashes of that which has lashed our spirits in the past be removed in the washing of your love as we make a good confession. Amen.’