I’ve been preparing the ashes for Ash Wednesday this afternoon. It’s quite an interesting process (at least, The Dog™ thought so as he supervised).
How to prepare ashes for Ash Wednesday…
Collect in the palm crosses from last year from folk at church.
Bake them (the crosses, not the folk at church) at 220 degrees centigrade for half an hour or so. This burns off the oils in the leaves so that they will burn to ashes when you start getting serious about burning them in step 3.
Get serious about burning the palm crosses. In my case, this involved snipping them up, putting them in a foil tray out of the recycling, then setting about them with a kitchen blowtorch outside.
Once they are pretty comprehensively burnt, grind them with a mortar and pestle.
Add olive oil and stir it really well so the ash is mixed in completely.
Pour it into a handy glass jar from the recycling.
Whoever wields political power, the job of the Church remains much the same. We just have to work out where to put our energies in order to be faithful to our calling in whatever political landscape we find ourselves. Like Mary, we are called to be God-bearers in the world: to bear the light of Christ and give birth to hope. Like the angel alarmingly yelling at shepherds on a hill out of the blue, we have to somehow make “Do not be afraid!” into more than empty bellowings into the dark night and overcome perfectly legitimate fear with the heavenly host’s message of love: glory to God and peace on earth. Then, like they did, we need to point our listeners in the direction of Jesus, the reason for that reassurance.
And that’s a tough gig. It has to be more than empty words. We have to live the hope that is revealed in Jesus, and be active messengers of hope to those who today are despairing. This means feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting those who mourn (Isaiah), regarding the lowly, scattering the proud, thwarting the self-serving agendas of the mighty, exalting the humble and meek (Mary), pursuing truth and justice, loving mercy, walking with God in a humble way which means our own agenda has to take a back seat (Micah), being good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives (Jesus) and so on (see the Bible for more of this kind of thing).
And yes, it means continuing to pray for all in authority, not to bestow upon them our approval, and certainly not to give them any sense that their every action has a divine seal of approval, or is somehow ‘God’s will’. Rather we pray knowing that the way in which human power is used has spiritual and moral significance. We pray because God’s agenda matters and those who govern are answerable to the One who is the source of all power. We pray to hold to account, and as a reminder that, at the end of the day, there is no fridge in which those who govern can hide from God.
God is with us: God’s love is loose in the world in Christ. Therefore, do not be afraid. But if you are, you’re not alone: God is with you, and, if we’re doing our job, then the Church is with you too. May it be so. Amen.