The Work of Lent

Lent has started, and in all my usual style I have missed its entry and filled its first days with busy and loud. I love the concept of Lent – a time for reflection, a journey to the cross, a pared back, quieter faith that demands facing silence and finding God without noise and crowds and hype.

… still, I live my life at top volume, revelling in the crowd and energised by busy.

Lent doesn’t come naturally to me, just as the scorn of the cross was not something Jesus desired. The process unenjoyable, tough, solo, demanding – but – for the joy set before him…

Sometimes the process of getting to the big celebration feels nothing at all like preparing for something wonderful and exciting. It just feels hard.

Maybe Lent is an invitation to prepare so that when the cross arrives to us we are ready – stronger, more faithful, more equipped to pass through the waters into the storm. Lent becomes the hours spent in training in order to endure and overcome in the arena, for the joy of the podium.

Having lived in an area where bushfires were a seasonal expectation I have learnt that from the burnt-out lifeless carcass of aftermath springs new life, and it springs rapidly because ashes are the perfect breeding ground for new life.

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Ash Wednesday has just slipped by and I am reminded of the times in the Bible when ashes represented grief, sorrow, despair and remorse; when sitting in sackcloth and ashes was visual representation of inner turmoil and grief.

Ash Wednesday reminds us we are dust, it paints our brokenness starkly on our foreheads, we find ourselves sinful, empty, lost. But, we remember as N.T Wright so elegantly put it we know that God can make extraordinary things from dust. (paraphrased)

I am reminded as I start this Lenten journey that ashes are not the end of the story, maybe the devastation looms large in your life, possibly it’s easy to see the blackened trees and smoking debris and much harder to hold onto the promise of new life coming. But it will come.

We remember the promise of difficulties (hooray, it’s hard to get excited about that right?)

and we hold onto the greater promise of the crown of life for the one that endures.

Lent invites us, invites me, to start breaking up the hard ground, strengthening the root system, being strategic. Lent is a time of preparation for the unknown difficult, for the arena, for the joy of the ‘good job, well done.’

Beauty comes from ashes, not immediately, but it comes, and there will be a time when all that people who visit an area previously destroyed will notice is the beauty. The ashes will have done their work and only the expert and the highly observant will see the signs of what once was ravaged and wrecked.

The final destination is fruitfulness, the final promise Shalom, the final outcome joy.

Wherever you see ashes in your own life today may you be filled with all the hope and strength of knowing underneath those ashes, even now, new life is  forming.

He is, and we are, anointed to:

bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    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 splendour.

Isaiah 6

This year I want to invest in Lent – to be about preparing my heart, doing the work, paring back, leaning in, trusting.