Ash Wednesday – Triumph Beyond the Wilderness by the Revd Canon Dr Makhosi Nzimande
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season will soon be upon us. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent. Customarily, the journey of Lent commences with the placing of blessed ashes on the foreheads of worshippers on Ash Wednesday as a reminder of their mortality and the need for penitence. As early Christian sources attest, ashes were always associated with humility, fasting and remorse. Sinners who sought to repent of their sins covered themselves with sack cloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads as a sign of sorrow and repentance. At the heart of Lent is our focus on the battle that our Lord Jesus Christ waged against sin and Satan in order to win for us our salvation.
Lent under Southern skies demands committing to and engendering a sense of advocacy and mispat (justice). As we withdraw with Christ into the wilderness, like him to be tried and tempted, we draw strength from extending our imagination beyond the wilderness itself to the renewal and transformation that the victory of Christ over temptation and death brings us on resurrection morning. Our challenge is to extend ourselves beyond the confines of the familiar and comfortable spaces we find ourselves in. The wilderness, with all its threats, uncertainties and pain reminds us about the need to grant the voiceless Christ-like inclusion.
Inevitably, Lent under Southern skies nudges us to pay an even closer attention to some of the challenges prevalent in our African contexts: racism, sexism, neo-liberalism, homophobia, climate change, drought, global terrorism, socio-political unrest, etc. We are called to shift from abstract theologizing to praxis, ensuring that the downtrodden are treated humanely and justly, thus imitating Christ.
Lent challenges us specifically to reconsider the Latin adage: Lex orandi est lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief) and ask ourselves how liturgical theology shapes our faith in postcolonial ecclesiastical contexts like ours. For early Christians, Lent was a season of penitence and fasting in preparation for the Paschal Feast. Likewise with remorse, we are to engage in introspection, penitence and fasting for the many ways in which we have practised the politics of exclusion.
As we journey with our Lord Jesus Christ in the wilderness this Lenten season, let us re-examine the Missio Dei (the Mission to which God calls us) in our broken world with renewed assurance that the risen Christ who makes all things new seeks to restore and grant our broken world hope and triumph beyond the wilderness.