By ELIZABETH COOPER
Wednesday 17 February 2021
Fire is neither good nor bad. Shere Khan, in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, calls it the ‘red flower’, because animals are invariably frightened by it while only humans have harnessed its power for both good and evil.
Fire burns, producing smoke and ash; it consumes everything, turning it into grey powder. For most of us, fire and ash are our body’s destiny. With Abraham, we can remember that we are dust and to dust we will return. In some Churches on Ash Wednesday, ashes are smeared on the forehead in the sign of the cross reminding us to ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ’. In preparation for this, palm crosses from the previous year are burnt, reduced to grey ashes reminding us of the cycle of life, death and resurrection.
Whether the rubble of St Paul’s cathedral, the ashes of the palm leaf, the ashes in the grate at our home or our own mortal remains after cremation, the product is basically the same = Carbon reduced to ash. Abraham knew this.
Fire is a leveller, reducing everything to the same common substance that came into being in the first moments of creation.
Ashes also symbolise the humility of penitence and mourning. In Esther 4 v 1 we see Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes. In Jeremiah 6 v 26 we see Jeremiah telling the people to do the same. Both Daniel and Jonah don sackcloth and ashes as an outward sign of spiritual submission and humility (Daniel 9v3; Jonah 3v6).
To return to the fireplace at home; just as our earthly homes are both warmed and endangered by fire, so too are we fearful of , and grateful for, the purifying fire of God’s love and mercy.
Creator God, as we stare into the flames and remember that we are but dust and ashes, help us to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ. Amen
Refiner's Fire (worship video w/ lyrics) - Bing video