Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The lesson of ashes

Ash Wednesday

It is interesting to note that no matter how beautiful, varied and different everything that we see may be, all are reduced to ashes when subjected to fire. A beautiful and priceless painting, a human body, stacks of money, expensive clothes and flowering trees, all become in differentiable when reduced to ashes. It may normally seem strange to admire ashes. It’s just dust – no shape, no beauty, no use, no value. Yet, ashes take on an entirely new meaning when we view it through the eyes of faith. Ashes remind us that all the things which we treasure in this life, our money, our possessions, our environment and even our loved ones are impermanent. Ashes then become our teacher – for they teach us to understand that we cannot place our trust and hope in things which will eventually disappear, things that will become ashes. Ashes point to our own mortal lives – in spite of how long we may live or how healthy we may be, one day, all of us, without any exception would become ashes.

Today, we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the period of Lent. Ash has often been used as a sign of death and grieving. For us Christians, ash is also used as a sign of penance. Each of us may come from different backgrounds. Some of us are rich while others poor. Some may hold very important positions while others perform clerical task and other manual work. No matter who you are or where you come from, all are invited to come forward to place ashes on your forehead. Rich or poor, young or old, powerful or weak, stranger or friend - all equally sinners in need of salvation. In this way, we are all equal in the eyes of God. We all require forgiveness and redemption. We all need to die to our old sinful self in order to be reborn into the new life with Christ. When all is reduce to ashes, there are no longer differences among us.

This is season of Lent is therefore an opportunity for us to die to sin. When we die to sin we also die to the illusions and lies caused by sin. Sin tells us that we only need to think of our own needs without having to think of others. Sin tells us to make a big show of our spiritual exercises e.g. prayer, fasting, coming to church etc. Sin blinds us to the kingdom of God and tempts us with worldly values that are impermanent. Today, on this first day of Lent, let us pray that the Lord will burn away our sins and the illusions caused by such sin. Ashes reveal the truth. As our sin and illusions are reduced to ashes, our focus is now turned toward God. In God, we shall find everything that is good and beautiful. In God, shall we have the promise of eternal life which will not be reduced to ashes. In God, we will find a place where all are welcome, both sinner and saint, young and old, sick and healthy, poor and rich. In God, we will find our resting place and true home.

Every year, Lent is a period for us to examine our lives and experience repentance in order to make a new start. It is not a time for sorrow and false humility. Rather, Lent should be an occasion for joy. Let us therefore joyously begin our Lenten preparation for Easter with the call to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”

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