Being marked with ash. Giving up chocolate, or alcohol, or something else you enjoy. Piggy banks. In some traditions, no flowers in church, no songs of praise, no baptisms … what on earth is going on?
For most people, and much of the church, it’s just another week, at the beginning of Autumn. In the tradition of the church we’ve walked into the season of Lent, which comes from an original word lencten, the season of Spring (which is what’s happening in Europe right now).
Seasons are part of who we are, especially in rural areas. The burden of Summer’s height is relieved by the arrival of Autumn, and Spring’s arrival heralds the crop ready for harvest.
Most of us just get on with our work and families and gardens and friends, and that’s valuable. But for some of us, it’s a valuable time (forty days with built-in RDOs) to work on our discipleship with Jesus. It’s the discipline of not drinking beer, or eating chocolate for six weeks, and reflecting on what our small sacrifice might mean, especially as we journey towards Easter.
Anyone who says, “why bother?” might want to consider what even small sacrifices entail in a community where so much sits at our fingertips, or within reach of “tap & go”.
What about the idea of no flowers in worship, no songs of celebration?
Let me ask this another way. When are we given permission for seasons of difficulty, challenge, or doubt? If worship is only and always upbeat, where is the opportunity to acknowledge a God who is with us when the chips are down? Where is the liturgy which explores doubt and faith together?
If the worship in which we share fails to reflect the reality of our life’s journey – or worse, denies it – then what are we saying about faith, about God?
Being marked with ash might seem archaic, but a couple of things come to mind. 30% of people under fifty years of age in Australia have at least one tattoo, so what does a smudge of ash on our forehead, or our hand matter? At the same time, we are claiming something for ourselves which we can no longer conceal.
A handful of us went to dinner at the pub after the Ash Wednesday Service, marked with the cross. It’s easy to feel self-conscious, even vulnerable, being so obviously and deliberately marked.
When the seasons of our lives have been completed,
when the time comes for the harvest to be gathered in,
may the fruit of our labours, and our living and loving
be pleasing to you, our heavenly Father.
A few of you are still wondering about the piggy banks, aren’t you?
In centuries past, people used clay pots to save money, and during Lent they were used for the money saved as people made their sacrifices. The Latin for clay is pygg. And so, after a linguistic journey of a several hundred years, clay pots, become piggy banks. Something for your local trivia nights …