The Revd Dr Colleen O'Reilly
Alas, this Ash Wednesday Christians in Victoria cannot gather as usual to receive ash on our foreheads and begin the season of Lent. However, in our lockdown separation we can do as Jesus urges and go into our own spaces, there to pray and reflect as we continue to live in the uncertainty of these COVID-19 times. We have much to give thanks for in Australia in our relative safety, and many to pray for as we see daily on our screens just how much suffering this pandemic has brought around the world.
Ashes symbolise both human mortality and human sorrow over wrongdoing. We live in times when most people don’t have much to do with death and try not to think about it. Once death was much more part of everyday life and families took care of the departed at home before the funeral service and burial. Nowadays we give this over to professionals, who do a holy and necessary work, but who shield us from much of death’s reality. COVID-19 has brought death close to home, although not on the scale we see sadly in other countries. So, to be reminded that our lives are mortal is no light thing. It can enable us to think more deeply about how to make our lives matter for the good of the wider community.
Similarly, sorrow over wrongdoing arises when we acknowledge that we, mostly unintentionally but sometimes deliberately, do what harms us, those we love and those to whom we are neighbours, and even the earth itself. Human greed, selfishness and failure to respect the natural world all contribute to what we know deep down is a broken and divided world. The calls for a better world post COVID spring from the desire expressed one way or another in all religions, and by people of good will, to create a more just and equitable world.
Christians commit to turn away from doing wrong whenever they recognise it. So, ash on our foreheads brings home to us personally the need to turn to the One we call God, the mystery at the heart of life, and the need to live in harmony with the wondrous universe God creates.
The source of the strength to live this way comes from Jesus who has lived our common life and died our human death, as a pathway for us to God. This Lent, draw on Jesus’ faith in God’s good purposes for us and all creation as you make your own Lenten journey to the astonishing joy of Easter Day and faith’s fulfillment.
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos within and around us,
and through the life and death and resurrection of our brother Jesus
bring us healing and make us whole;
in Jesus Christ, the risen One.
We come from the earth, and to the earth we will return.