It’s finally March! Like most everyone across the country, we in the Pacific Northwest are ready to put away our snow boots and celebrate the coming of spring!

March also ushers in the season of Lent–a solemn and reflective period leading up to Easter Sunday. On the first Wednesday of this month, many Christians around the world will kneel as a pastor or priest traces a small cross on their foreheads using the ashes left from burned palm branches. Known as Ash Wednesday, the message is each of us will die and return to dust, for we are, indeed, mortal. The Book of Common Prayer says it this way: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

The presence of ash suggests something significant is lost—conceivably to the point of being completely consumed or incinerated. Each of us has sat among the ashes sometime or another—whether real or figurative. Several years ago, Richard and I sat in the smoldering remnants of what was left of the church we pastored. A lightning-induced fire had reduced much of the building to ash. It was almost impossible to envision a future with hope. Before condemning the building, the firefighters allowed us to sit for a few moments in the back of the sanctuary. We instinctively reached for the water damaged pew Bible and turned to Isaiah 61. Hope came in the words, “He will give a crown of beauty for ashes…”

Recently, friends of ours lost their home and all of their possessions in one of the California fires. Other than some deformed remnants of their cars and appliances, everything was reduced to cinders and ash. Hope seemed buried in the slag. It would be easy to give in to despair. Two months after the fire, our friend sent us a picture of her ravaged California property. There poking up through the mud, ash and debris was the green shoot of a spring crocus! Undaunted by overwhelming destruction, hope emerged. Unfazed by death, new life is springing forth. While a little plant does not replace a house and a lifetime of possessions, it represents the transformational power of the Creator.

Scripture reminds us of God’s intention to exchange ashes for beauty. Somehow, He will take the obliterated dreams and plans and transform them into something new, something mysteriously lovely. Likewise, as we approach this Lent season, God can take the defeat of our lives – the sin, the sadness, the failures – and turn them from despair to joy.

This week many will wear ashes upon their brows as emblems of repentance and humility. Then, as Easter looms on the horizon, we will rejoice in forgiveness and redemption—and don crowns of beauty and garments of praise!

written by Leona Bergstrom, Director, Re-Ignite
© Re-Ignite 2019
Images by CanStock