As we come closer to the beginning of the season of Lent, the name of that opening day, Ash Wednesday, triggers a strong memory of past bushfire tragedy.
The emotions stirred up are so much heightened this year, as those memories are being lived out again in the threat and destruction wrought through bushfire. This is not a crisis that can be named and contained by the events of a single day. It is ongoing.
Amidst all of this, we see the most extraordinary acts of human kindness, generosity and sacrificial love in fighting the fires and responding to the needs of those who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods, of injured wildlife and destroyed natural environments.
Sustaining such responses of compassion over the long term of ongoing and new threats and the lengthy process of recovery of fire-ravaged communities and bushland, looking to mitigation work for the new normal of longer, hotter and drier fire seasons, and reassessing how we respond to a changing climate can be exhausting.
How can we continue to act with compassion over the long course, without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of these challenges? What sustains our sense of hope when we feel so vulnerable?
Lent offers us an opportunity to be regrounded and reoriented toward the source of life that sustains us: in the call of the prophets and in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Lent gives us a chance to deepen our life in the God who travels with us through even the darkest and most difficult of life experiences; and for our lives and relationships with God, each other and our world to be renewed.
Lent is a season for taking a breath, to discern where we are being drawn into God’s healing presence and work of new creation in our world. Amidst the shock, loss, grief, anger, shared sorrow and sheer fatigue so many are experiencing, this is something we need.
In the opening readings of Ash Wednesday, we might feel challenged more than comforted. Matthew’s Gospel tells us prayer is about being concerned for others, not showing how virtuous we are. And what we do with our treasure, reflects the true interests of our hearts. Isaiah tells us, “this is the fast I choose: to lose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house”.
For those who have lost everything, are giving all they have, or are fearful for the future, these words are full of hope and promise. This is God’s desire for our world: that we share our burdens, sorrows and joys, to be communities of justice and compassion where all may flourish.
As our lives are more deeply embedded in the life of God we know in Jesus, we find ourselves upheld and sustained.
Lent calls us to remember and live out who we are, what sort of community we might be and to draw deep from all the ways in which God has blessed us (skills, time, money and wisdom) so that, in us, “all the families of the Earth shall be blessed”.
The bushfires bring a particular focus for us this Lent, not least in relation to our responses to a changing climate. In the face of all the bushfires have wrought and their continuing impact, in light of the life we find in Jesus, how is God opening our hearts and minds to what matters most, to what we are thankful for, to what we need to see more of, and what we would see renewed in the life of our communities and nation?
May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, fill your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.