Playing for the ashes… it conjures up for many of us, at least from Australia or England, the test cricket match between the two countries, a fiercely fought game that dates back over a hundred years. 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 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 a couple of years ago I decided to experiment.
Burning my cross and palms for the previous year has become a part of my Lenten ritual. I deliberately keep my Palm Sunday crosses as a reminder throughout the year of Jesus sacrifice then I burn them at the beginning of Lent to remind 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. This year my crosses were burned at our pre-Lent retreat Stop Playing Games Return to Our Senses for Lent. It seemed an appropriate theme for the ceremony.
Burning my Palm Sunday cross each year has a big impact on me. It reminds 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.