4 february 2016: fire and ashes

Last week, amidst the house projects, I reverted my fireplace to woodburning. And later this spring, I hope to put a firepit in my back yard. There’s just something about a fire that draws me.

There’s also something about fire that scares me. Namely, that it can destroy homes and decimate memories and livelihoods. Then there’s the fire that takes down cities and changes neighborhoods forever, a fire fueled by social unrest, by a certain fed-up-ness with a deathly status quo.

Fire is complicated. So let’s talk about something else.

I’m seeing that most of the Christmas decorations are finally down in my neighborhood. Which is probably a good thing. Christmas has 12 days, and we know that because we sing a song. Some people celebrate the 12 days leading up to December 25; in the church’scalendar, they actually start that day, so the 12th day isJanuary 5. That’s my target date for decoration storage each year. This past Tuesday, February 2, was, in the ancient church, a festival called Candlemas, the day when even the most diehard Christians finally observe the end of the Christmas celebration. So, Christmas is done. What’s next?

We’ve been in a post-season called Epiphany, which is about to be over as well. This Sunday is called the feast of the Transfiguration, and some of you will remember the story of Jesus going up the mountain and seeing God. We’ll hear that story this Sunday. Others of you will remember it as the day Pastor Deb lit a fire in church and filled the place with smoke. Can you believe it’s already been a year. We’ll do that this Sunday, too, but with a less smoke producing material.

What’s next, then, is Lent, and the idea of a fire to get us from one season to the other is appropriate, symbolic. Lent is the time that takes us to Easter, to the festival of resurrection, new life. A fire, well-managed, can be a great way to prep for that. Think farmers burning off the fields. Or rangers letting forest fires burn in a controlled kind of way. Burning makes way for new growth.

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. (Tuesday is Mardi Gras, “fat Tuesday.”) Wednesday, we’ll gather for worship at 7 pm, and, among other things, we’ll mark our foreheads with ash and oil, as we hear the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In Lent, we ponder mortality, humanity, divinity, and meaning. We try to clear the way for the new life of Easter.

The ashes have to come from somewhere. Last year, we burned the palms from the previous Palm Sunday, which is an old tradition in churches impervious to smoke inhalation. We at Woodside this year will burn whatever is between us and God’s gift of life. In our worship Sunday, as part of our offering, we’ll have a reflective time to jot notes – notes to God, notes to self, notes of our demons and failings and griefs. Then, we’ll toss them in a fire. A controlled burn on the very uncontrolled table of grace. And those are the ashes with which we will mark our foreheads to begin our journey to Easter’s resurrection.

There’s a lot going on in our world. Water distribution and primary elections and congressional investigations. Civil wars and stealth missions and constants threats to any sort of peace.

There is a lot going on in our lives as well. Things that would keep us distant from the sacred.

Lent is a wonderful time to face intentionally in the direction of God, to refocus on things of the spirit, even in the midst of the political and the economic, the critical and the mundane.

Fire can be devastating and it can be life-giving. Maybe the difference is beloved community.

Join in worship as we start this journey through Lent to Easter together.

With you on the journey,

- pastor deb