Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
Ashes are the remains of a fire. Any fire. Whether a warming fire from logs burning on a cold day or a raging fire that results in the destructive loss of a home. The ashes before us this month originate in the fires that consumed the palm leaves from last year’s celebration of Palm Sunday.
No matter the fire, the results are the same. Ashes. The palm ashes are the remains of a fire. It is a long time from Easter’s celebration to the cold, winter day when we step forward to have our foreheads smudged on Ash Wednesday. The fire of Holy Week has dimmed. Many of the extra Easter faces have retreated. Sanctuaries are cold, the pews never quite warmed up by the furnace.
N.T. Wright begins his Lenten devotional with these words, “Think of the last time you badly wanted something to happen and had to be patient” (Lent for Everyone, ©Westminster John Knox Press). Yes, I can think of the last time—and a thousand other times—when there was much more time than patience.
The Lenten journey is living into that patience. It is a journey in which we seek to relive the wanting of the fire. The fire is the Good News of Jesus Christ that burns in our hearts and in our acts toward each other. The journey starts with the ashes that mark us externally as Christians. There can be no hiding now. We are a people marked for forty days of discipline and reflection. We are not secretly committed. The remains of the fire have claimed us as children seeking to be adults in our faith.
The journey’s job is to recreate in us the “badly wanting.” The wanting to be the people whom God has called us to be. The people who love the Lord with all their heart and their neighbor—yes, even that neighbor—as him or herself. It is no simple journey to return to the fire. But we are not alone. We walk this path with our other smudged sisters and brothers in Christ.
Let us walk to the fire together. Amen.