A new small group resource from Open Doors offers the opportunity to go deeper into the transformative power of lament.
Historically, the Christian year is built around a rhythm of feasting and fasting. The celebrations of Easter and Christmas, for example, are preceded by Lent and Advent, times of reflection and preparation.
It’s an important rhythm. Because, in many ways, it is the fasting which gives meaning to the feast. Lent, with its emphasis on reflection and penitence, to the saving, resurrection joy of Easter.
We might not always appreciate this. We might want to rush through to the joy of Easter. But to do so would be to miss out on an important, biblical truth. Life is not always about celebration. It’s also about lament.
Among the Ashes is a small group resource from Open Doors which is all about lament. While the resource can be used all year round, it’s especially appropriate for Lent which begins, of course, on Ash Wednesday. The big message of Among the Ashes is that we will all find ourselves, at some point, in times of loss and suffering, but these times, far from destroying us, can lead to healing, renewal and new, deeper understanding of God.
This is something embodied in the image of ashes. As the liturgical historian and Lutheran pastor Philip Pfatteicher writes:
"Ashes remind us and all who see them of humiliation and of repentance. Moreover, ashes were an ancient material for cleansing in the absence of soap; therefore ashes show cleanness and purification… They have therefore a healthful, medicinal effect: ashes can heal."
We all need healing. We all need cleansing and purifying. Among the Ashes recognises that there are no easy answers during times of suffering and loss. But it also asserts that there is always hope. There is always the possibility of renewal and resurrection.
And this is a biblical principle. Each of the five Among the Ashes sessions centres around a lament psalm and a video of 8-12 minutes that includes a story from your persecuted family. For example, session 3 (video below) tells the story of Baher (not his real name) from Egypt, a young Christian who lost his brother and was horribly injured, all because, as a Christian, he was forced to work in unsafe conditions. No wonder he was angry with God. But as the video reflects further, Baher was behaving biblically and Rebecca, a staff member at Open Doors, shows how Psalm 44 is another example of someone talking honestly to God.
Filmed in a series of evocative locations around the UK, the series explores how the practice of lament invites us into an intimate, honest, deeper relationship with God. There is a discussion guide for individuals providing background notes and exploratory questions which help you to unpack what you’ve read and watched.
As we said, you can use this at any time. But there does seem to be a particular resonance with Lent. Indeed, the practice of Lent itself emerges from a time of destruction and loss. Although its origins are a little obscure, Lent seems to have gained recognition during the fifth century AD, when the Roman Empire in the west was collapsing. This was a time of anxiety and fear, when the old certainties were crumbling and when the glories of the past seemed to be turning to ash.
Looking around at our troubled world today, it’s tempting to empathise! But perhaps the truth is that all ages have their share of suffering and loss, all eras have times of celebration and times when they are among the ashes.
Whatever the case, we hope that, this Lent, Among the Ashes will help you and your church to experience God in a profound and new way. After all, it’s no shame to be among the ashes. It is only among the ashes that we can truly experience the transforming power of lament.
Heavenly Father, thank You that we can come before You unmasked, knowing that You welcome our honesty – even when our hurt comes from feeling let down by You. May this truth transform our walk with You. When you feel a million miles away, help us to have faith in Your unfailing love. Amen.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.