Playing for the ashes… it conjures up for many of us (at least from the British Commonwealth) the test cricket match between Australia and England, probably one of the most fiercely fought international games. But that is not what I am writing about here. The ashes that I am thinking of have nothing to do with a game but with Ash Wednesday which ushers in probably the most serious event of history – Jesus final days and his walk towards the Cross.
For many of us, today (yes, it is already Ash Wednesday in Australia) marks the beginning of a personal journey too as we join Jesus in his final days. Unfortunately, many of us treat the season of Lent like a game – more like the cricket match called the Ashes than like the serious turn around time it is meant to be. We come to the season with a list of trivial things we intend to give up – TV, video games, chocolate, but most of us don’t really take the season seriously or use it as a time to dig deeply into our hearts to sweep out the corners in which sin has accumulated.
The ashes used in church services on Ash Wednesday are traditionally made by burning the Palm Sunday crosses from the previous year so this year I decided to experiment. My Palm Sunday cross from last year was still sitting in my office, so I burnt it, reminding myself that the repentance I seek at this season is only possible because of the incomprehensible gift of Christ and his death on a cross 2,000 years ago.
Burning my Palm Sunday cross had a big impact on me. It reminded me that the crucifixion is not really meant to be the focus of our mourning and fasting. We mourn and fast not because we are heading to the cross but because we want to shed all that disrupts our intimate walk with God. We look beyond the cross to the life of God’s kingdom. Asking myself what still needs to be repented of and transformed in my life so that I can be an effective citizen of God’s resurrection created world is probably the most important question of Lent. I want to become all that God intends me to be. I want to leave behind all that prevents me from becoming that person. I want to thirst for righteousness and hunger for justice rather than for water and food.