Ash Wednesday Reflections – Pastor Jeff Knol

Preparation

As a kid I loved camp fires. My family camped almost every summer, and one of my favorite parts of camping was having a camp fire.

There was a process that my dad taught me and my brothers, as we prepared to build and light a camp fire. As a child, as a young person, I loved that process, that process walking through the wood and paths of the camp ground in order to discover and gather sticks, twigs, and branches for our fire. I loved the process of breaking, cutting, and chopping branches and logs, so that they would fit in our fire pit and so that they would be the perfect size for our fire. I loved the care that my dad took in arranging all the elements of the unlit fire. Starting with the smallest elements and working to the largest. Getting everything ordered and perfect, so that when the fire was eventually lit, it would burn well, and our family and friends would have a good fire to gather around and enjoy.

There was joy and beauty in the preparation. There was joy and beauty and the process. And the joyful-beautiful process lead to something that had its own kind of beauty and wonder.

As we observe Ash Wednesday, we engage in a process. As we observe Ash Wednesday, we engage in preparation. Like some boys and their dad preparing to light a fire, we are beginning a process that leads us, as people of faith and as a church community, to a spectacular moment, a moment with its own kind of beauty and wonder. It is the moment when our God reveals to us and to our world the deepness and the breadth of God’s divine and perfect love for us. It is the moment of the cross, and the empty tomb, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

For now, in this moment we will reflect on the process, and the preparation. Prayerfully, I bid you, to spend some time in silence listening to God’s leading. I what ways is God calling you to prepare? Into what process is God leading you as we head towards good Friday and Easter morning? What sticks need gathering in your life? What branches need breaking? What supplies need to be gathered and what focus needs to be taken? Let us take some time in silence to feel God’s leading.

Devotion

As a kid, there were few things that captured my attention, my un-broken devotion, like a roaring campfire.

On our family camping trips, we would have a fire almost every evening. The adults would sit in camping chairs in a circle with the burning fire at the center of the circle. And us kids, we would sit in the sand, as close to the fire as our parents would allow. We would sit, with our attention fixed, with our gazes trained in on that roaring fire.

There would be conversations happening around that fire, jokes and stories were told, but at times we would also just sit and gaze, sit and stare, sit and marvel at this process unfolding before us, as the fire consumed the sticks, the branches and the logs. We would sit in un-broken devotion, with our faces warmed and illumined, as the light and heat leapt out from the churning flames, the flames jumping and dancing, spinning and darting before our devoted faces.

As a child, I could sit for hours, literally hours, watching a fire burn. Feeling the warmth on my hands and face. Watching those dancing flames, marveling at their work, wondering about their chemistry and their ways. There were few things that have ever captured my un-broken devotion, as a camp fire, burning under the stars in otherwise dark evening.

As we enter the Season of Lent, God wishes to lead us to deeper devotion. Like a child mesmerized by a burning fire, God wishes to move in us a devotion to God’s ways. Christ, the light of the world, Christ, the way the truth and the life, has come into our world. Christ, our savior and our Lord, lives and reigns in our world and in our lives.

In the silence of this moment God bids us to open our hearts, in order that we might be led into a deeper devotion to our Lord and Savior. Jesus is our life and he is the light of our lives. As we enter the season of Lent, let us prayerfully ask God to tune our hearts, our eyes, and our whole lives, to that which is truly worthy of our unbroken devotion.

Resurrection

 It was always that case, that eventually my parents would break my devotion to our evening camp fire, by sending me into the tent and into my sleeping bag for the night. I would sleep and in the morning, I would rise.

I was always curious the next morning to peek into the metal ring of the campfire circle to inspect what was left of the previous night’s fire. Untouched, what seemed to be left was only a dust grey ash. The remnants of larger logs might still show their general shapes, but everything, in that small circle, was coated in a fine gray ash.

The ash was as gray as any headstone. The fire circle, which the night before had crackled and popped, was now as quite as any grave yard. This little stage, where flames had danced and twirled, was now, to my perception, empty, dead, and lifeless.

On those family camping trips, my father taught me that looks can be deceiving. As I peered down on the seemingly dead-fire circle, I learned that my father knew better, my father could see what I could not. My father was aware of a life buried down deep, under that lifeless gray ash.

My dad taught me, that buried there, in the center of that fire pit, was the warmth of the previous-night’s blaze. Buried down-deep, hidden, perceivable at first glance, under a few layers of ash, was the hope of resurrection.

With a little coaxing, with the right fuel and technique, my dad showed me how to resurrect the fire, how to set it ablaze once more, and how to find new life under the dead ash.

People of God, this evening, we will receive ashes, as a sign and a reminder of our mortality. From dust we were made, and to dust we are destined to return. In the silence of this moment we are invited to be led to an acceptance of our mortality. The lives and the bodies in which we now reside, they are finite, they burn out, they come to an end. Our story is from dust, to dust.

But as a community gathered by the good news of Christ’s resurrection, we are also invited, to remember that despite first appearances, despite the ash, despite the reality of death – our heavenly Father knows better. For in the resurrection of Christ, our heavenly Father has given us the promise of resurrection. That from the ash of this world, and for the ashes of our lives, God is able to bring forth new life.

And so, in the silence of this moment, let us allow God to lead us.