As we venture into the Wilderness of Lent, we have a tendency to see only the mournful aspects - the reminder of imperfection and sin, the looming anticipation of Good Friday and the memorial of the death of our Lord. Still, this Season is such a blessing in our Liturgical Calendar. Like Advent, it is a time to pause, quiet our lives, and reconnect to the Divine. It is a Season of Sabbath. And in Sabbath, there is joy in restfully observing the glory of Creation. There is joy in pausing to reflect on our shortcomings in order to prepare ourselves for a rebirth into a better version of ourselves - the version God intended for us from the beginning.
At our Ash Wednesday service last week, we reflected on the purpose of burning and ashes in the growth process of nature. Just as forest fires purposefully burn away the underbrush and entanglements in a forest, so the anger and hurt must burn through us when we are in the midst of the brokenness that we experience and the ways we hurt others from our brokenness. This is a necessary aspect of healing. It’s maybe not our favorite aspect of healing - nobody likes to be angry and hurting. But in the experience of allowing these feelings to course through us, acknowledging the natural grief of sitting with our own brokenness, sitting with the guilt of hurting others, we allow the fire to burn away the underbrush of our excuses, our denials, our minimizations. It is only in facing the fire that we can be truly accountable for our shortcomings. Through this accountability, we are able to fully open to forgiveness and reconciliation.
If you’ve ever walked through a forest after a burn, you know the eerie silence of death in the ashes. This is Lent: a pause in the Creation cycle to allow the ash to settle. A pause in the healing cycle to allow for grief after the rage has burned through us. A quiet hope, if you make space for it, in the new life that will be generated from the ashes mixing into the soil like a fertilizer. A light that is finally allowed to break through after the fire has made space in the once solid tree canopy.
So, we wait in the ashes, and we observe. We seek stillness in reflection. In the Sabbath of Lent we acknowledge our shortcomings, we admit to our own most grievous faults, we accept responsibility for what we have done and what we have left undone, and we heal. We heal in preparation for the Resurrection and the New Covenant promise of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the stillness after the burn, once the ashes have settled and the rain has fallen, a life struggles through the soil and ash, reaching up for the sun to start the forest anew - a shoot from the stump of Jesse to reclaim His people