Prepared for our local newspaper, the Border Watch.
Even though the date changes from year to year, the name ‘Ash Wednesday’ gives rise to powerful memories that abide more that thirty years after the fires raged through the affected areas of South Australia and Victoria. Having moved to this region over a decade ago it is impossible to miss the way the events of that tragic time cast a shadow over lives and events today, especially at this time of year.
Over the next week as the actual anniversary date passes many people will pause and take time to reflect on how their lives changed because of that day. There will be expressions of grief for loss, expressions of thanks for support received and for new lives forged after extraordinary ordeals, and a continuing determination to be vigilant against such danger in the future.
Those of us who were not there stand alongside them, and learn from their reactions to that ordeal.
It is fitting that this bittersweet anniversary often falls during a time of year when many Christians engage in a prolonged season of spiritual reflection.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of time that culminates in Easter. Over that time Christians remember what Jesus experienced on their behalf, think about what he has done for them, and recommit themselves as his disciples.
The Bible teaches that Jesus underwent a particular time of trial in a wilderness. He was sustained during that trial by faith in the Scriptures, faith in God, and faith in the promises made by God. His resistance of temptation is understood to be central to his capacity of being the Saviour of God’s people.
In remembering Jesus in this way the primary focus is not on emulation, but commemoration and celebration.
Remembering what others have been through develops empathy into their situations and insight into our reactions in our own circumstances. It doesn’t mean we’ve gone through what others have gone through, or share the credit what they’ve done.
In a similar way, the various activities leading up to Easter don’t mean we share responsibility for Jesus’ work.
Rather we are encouraged to recall that Jesus has done what only Jesus could do. We draw instruction from his focus, inspiration from his tenacity, and reassurance from his success. Again and again we learn that he successfully walked where we could not; and because he has the consequences of our own inabilities are overcome.
We remember the past well if we are determined to be informed by that which we’ve experienced rather than have our past experiences define us.
For those grieving past losses, even those from decades ago, be encouraged to look for future renewal. May those who will stand with you in support and empathy surround you.
For those seeking to remember the faithfulness of Jesus during these weeks, remember not to find your confidence in your own acts of devotion, but rather in the finished work of our Lord emphatically declared on your behalf in the resurrection.