About forty of us gathered at the neighbouring church across the valley. We prayed and reflected to a stirring rendition of Psalm 51 by Evelyn Tubb (can’t find the track on the web anywhere!) and watched as our celebrant, Neville Watson, burned gum leaves to form the ashes with which we would be daubed. Gum leaves representing the political and social realities of the Australian community of which we are a part and which needs redemption.
There was a box of tissues. Take a tissue, Neville said, and wipe the ashes from your forehead if you intend them to be a show of pious ostentation, or if you fear that you will be called to account for your witness. Neither ostentation nor timidity are worthy of the road of discipleship. But if you would humbly walk the road and carry the challenge of learning from the Christ, leave the tissues in the box.
As the cover on the service sheet said:
The burning that generates the ashes
reflects misdirected passion
and the searing apathy
which renders hope barren
and suppresses change
To take the sign of the cross
is to allow oneself
to be stretched out wide
in solidarity with the Christ
and to believe that life can begin again