With Ash Wednesday upon us, Wesley College Chaplain, Rev Nalin Perera, reflects on what the Lenten period means.
On my way to school recently I stopped at a fast-food outlet for a very necessary early morning cup of coffee. The young woman who served me politely indicated that with my senior’s discount all that I owed was $2.56.
In that instant I was both amused as to how I must have appeared to her, as well as a little shocked that before her eyes, I was “elderly”.
I shared my experience with my three adult daughters, to which the reply was: “Get over it Dad, all the invites you get these days are for 60th Birthday celebrations of your friends”.
Family can be a little too brutal in their honesty on occasions, but it helped me to realise that indeed I am getting a little older than I care to admit and after the health scare I experienced at the beginning of 2019, recognising life can, on occasions, be very fragile and our mortality something that can silently creep up on us, whether we anticipate it or not.
The recent terrible bush fires experienced this summer throughout many parts of Australia, followed by torrential rain and more recently, the threat of the Coronavirus, can alter our perception of life in an instant. Previous certainties are replaced by fear of the unknown. Boundless optimism suddenly can become captive to panic and uncertainty.
The reality for each one of us, regardless of our age, is that we live in that constant tension between the life’s uncertainties, linked to our mortality; and the contrasting certainty of our eventual demise. We do our best to embrace the former and try to ignore the latter for as long as we can.
In the life of the Church, Ash Wednesday has just been celebrated (this year it occurred on 26th February), but to most people it means very little. In fact, “Ash Wednesday” has become part of Australia’s terrifying folk-lore when bushfires broke out on Ash Wednesday 1983 with such devastating effect, an event now surpassed in its ferocity this summer in so much of Eastern Australia.
“Ash Wednesday” in the Australian consciousness now means loss and powerlessness when faced with devastating natural phenomena, over which we have little or no control, capable of causing serious loss, injury and tragically in some cases, death.
Over many centuries in the Western tradition “Ash Wednesday” has announced not a bushfire, but the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation in the lead up to Easter. It parallels the 40 days and 40 nights the biblical tradition tells us Jesus spent in prayer, fasting and preparation before heading to Jerusalem, his resultant arrest, mock trial and execution on the cross.
It is a time when those who embrace the Christian faith seek to also engage in a time of personal preparation for that which is unknown, save that we are being called to commitment and discipleship. The journey of discipleship offers no certainties or unrealistic promises, only that those who embrace such a life will be able to turn any disappointment or disaster into a renewed will to live, not just for ourselves, but others also.
In some places, the ashes that are placed on the foreheads of worshippers on Ash Wednesday are made from the burning of the palm crosses made a year earlier, representing all the hopes and failures of the intervening year of the pilgrim’s journey. The ashes announce everything in life matters; that there is nothing inconsequential. Every word we speak, every action we take, every choice we make does matter, does make a difference.
My prayer is that in this 2020 Lenten Season, you may be able to reclaim your treasure of the heart; reclaim your life; be engaged in a time of renewal, not only for yourself, but for and with all those who share in your life journey.
May our journey towards Easter this year not be a time for despondency, but rather a season for hope. In the final analysis that is what the true miracle of Easter is all about; that out of the ashes of the past, new life emerges. The same can to be true for us too.
Rev Nalin Perera
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