19 May 2024

Embrace the mark of ash, and open your hearts to transformation 

Archbishop Philip Freier discusses Ash Wednesday. Picture: file.

By Archbishop Philip Freier 

22 January 2023

We will soon begin our Lenten journey with the invitation to receive the mark of ashes during the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Ash from a fire has been understood from ancient times to be a sign of mortality, of the little that is left after all else has been consumed. People from many different cultures around the world have used ash as a sign of mourning at times of loss and bereavement. Disfiguring and dirty, it showed the abandonment of the way things were and marked an essential step along the path to recovery through grief. 

Read more: On our doors, at our tables, we can share God’s gift to us

The liturgical imposition of ashes is more constrained but is sure to disrupt the sense of “life as normal” as we leave the liturgy and walk the street or catch the tram, bus or train. What might it be, then, that gives us cause to respond to God in this way? Could it be because we have covered ourselves with pride and arrogance that we need to be cleansed and released to the freedom that is ours in Christ?  

So often we are content to live lives that are empty and superficial, yet how much do we yearn for the depths of God’s love? Are we trapped in old patterns and struggles, needing our eyes to be lifted to the hope that is ours in Christ? 

It is easy to answer any of these questions in the affirmative. Even though we are vessels of clay, easily broken and far short of perfection, we still seek to be conformed to God’s purposes, to be vessels of God’s loving service in the world. Even if our best efforts have met rejection and discouragement, we are still called to trust and hope through Jesus. So we bring before God all that is in our life, knowing that we can hold nothing back from the fire of love which consumes even those faults which we dearly cherish. 

I think the world hungers for people with this kind of humble self-examination to embrace the gift of penitence and reformation of life in Christ. What a gift our observance of Lent is for others! Ash Wednesday is the time for each of us to tune into God’s story for the world and listen a little less the world’s story about itself.  

Read more: God freed me, may it be so for you also

Let us then share in the reality of this transforming journey, with Jesus and his 40 days in the wilderness as its pattern. He found the proper response to the tempter’s words of discouragement in his deep formation in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We have the additional gift of his words in the gospels and those of the early Christian community and its leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.  

This all constitutes the Lenten journey. Embrace the mark of ash and open your hearts to the transforming future that is the gift of God to all who believe in Christ. May our daily reflection on God’s revelation nurture and strengthen us in every way. Have a blessed journey from Ash Wednesday through to Easter. 

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