It is a rule in our world that without death there is no life. Literally. If all our ancestors were still alive, the world’s finite resources would have been consumed long ago. Fungi, worms, and microorganisms are the champions of the forest because they turn the plant-locked nutrients back into usable forms through decay. What makes our garden grow? Dead things re-giving their gifts to the soil (synthetic fertilizers only mimic this process). Ash Wednesday is a beloved day in the church because it reminds us of this beautiful ‘rule of death’ and invites us to welcome it. We meditate through Lent that, in Christ, God entered death to show us the fullness of our humanity and the fullness of divinity dwelling together.
Pancakes. How many of you fast throughout lent? How many give up the animal products that traditionally gave rise to pancake Tuesday – to use up the eggs and milk before the fast? Not many I suspect, and it is not either part of my church tradition at the moment, but we have kept the pancake feast! So let it be a community feast. Let it be a moment when the community gathers, and friends are invited to share table together. Let it be a moment of discerning God in the masses, and in the faces of the people who sit around you. Who are they? Are they new to Canada? Are they of European descent, or carrying the blood of the first people of this land? Are they new to life and in the glow of childhood, or do they carry the weather of years and experience? What makes their face light up? Community eating can be awkward, but it is better than if we all stayed home. Community living is awkward, but it creates a net of resilience that makes us more truly human in the long run.
This night we burn the old palm fronds and crosses to make ashes for use on Ash Wednesday. It occurs to me that there is an added element that you might wish to participate in. Consider bringing a list with you to the pancake dinner – a list of your anxieties, a list of your sorrows, a list even of simple tasks you have to do. Ash Wednesday is about understanding that all life is gift – all things come from God and all things return to God. We learn this from the land. And so, all that we ‘carry’ – emotionally, spiritually, mentally – also belongs to God. At 7 pm this Tuesday night we will kindle a fire outside the church to burn the palms, you may want to stand by and offer your list in similar way.