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Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday quake memorial

Ash Wednesday

22 February 2012 is Ash Wednesday and the anniversary of the Christchurch/Canterbury earthquake that killed 181 people, destroyed much of the central city and caused widespread damage and devastation. Quakes continue. Last year, my friend and colleague Rev. Eric Etwell was the first to ask here how we might combine the anniversary with our Ash Wednesday liturgy. He noted that the 1983 bush fires in Australia occurred on Ash Wednesday, and that there might be Australian anniversary services that took this into account.

Possibly you know of others working on resources, or have spotted resources on diocesan or national sites, or have good ideas yourself. Please add such points in the comments below.

Our community (I’m a secondary school chaplain, serving at Christ’s College) in 2011 could not meet for Ash Wednesday as we normally do, the school being closed after the quake. I sent the following around digitally. It may have some points that are useful:

Ash/Silt Wednesday

One of the readings regularly read on Ash Wednesday is:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

We do not know when this was written.

The context of the book of Joel is a devastating natural disaster – in this case a swarm of locusts of unprecedented intensity. Trees and vines have been stripped bare. There is no corn, wine, or oil. There is despair. People are mocking God’s people, saying, “Where is their God?”

Regularly, we participate in Lent by “giving something up”. But at the deeper level this was the time of preparation for being baptised at Easter – and joining those preparing by sharing in their training. It relived the “time of trial” that Jesus endured in the desert.

We all know about training. Training in sport; training in study. And then what we have been training for comes – the sport competition, the examination,…

The earthquake and what has been following is not training for something else – for many of us, most of us, this is taking all our strength and “training”. For some this is their greatest time of trial.

When Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me” many of us make Lent into giving up lollies or such. But actually the cross we need to take up, your cross and mine, is the pain each of us meets in our life – that can be anything from difficulties in relationships, our own personality issues, imperfection in our abilities, external events, including tragedies and earthquakes…

Many of us are marked this Lent on our foreheads not with ash, but with silt. I don’t know if it is appropriate to encourage each other to give up more – some have already given up far more than we thought we could bear – let us encourage each other to bear the cross we have been given. As I know many of are helping each other to carry the cross – when some have been given a heavier cross than others. And helping to carry another’s cross is also part of the story of Lent.

Almighty God,
your Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness;
give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your Spirit;
and as you know our weakness
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer
who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever.

For further prayers and reflections I suggest you return to my first reflection from after the earthquake and also here.


My earlier digital reflection that I sent to my community included:

Thoughts, prayers, and encouragement to you all as we all work together after the earthquake. In our thoughts and prayers we are with those grieving, those helping, those waiting, and all of us…

Here are some prayers and reflections that you can use in any way you find helpful. Most of them are very familiar to us all – and with maybe a different and stronger emphasis.

In darkness and in light,
in trouble and in joy,
help us, heavenly Father,
to trust your love,
to serve your purpose,
and to praise your name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 Kings 19:9-13

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Where was God in the earthquake?
“…the LORD was not in the earthquake…”

This prayer is said at noon all around the world, by people of all faiths and none:

Lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth;
lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust;
lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart,
our world, our universe.

…maybe using a different word than “God” helps: Where was compassion in the earthquake? Where was caring in the earthquake? Where was love in the earthquake?

This prayer is credited to St Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace;
where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled,
as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

…I do know where God is in the earthquake: God is in the Art Gallery where so many are working to get the city back on its feet [the Art Gallery, a building that survived, became, for many months, the centre for all organisation]. In the police, the army, the emergency services, structural engineers, all who are helping. God is in the students who volunteered. God is in my concern and yours to assist and keep others from harm. And God is in your help as you listen to others and lend a hand.

At 12:51pm on Tuesday, a week exactly after the quake, we stood for two minutes in silence. I stood with others from Christ’s College at our College gates looking East towards the CBD.

There was “a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” God was in our silence together.

For some of our questions, the only answer is – the way we live, and silence…

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

“Save us from the trial” is very difficult to translate. It has the sense of those of us in the trial seeking to find our way out…

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your loves sake. Amen.

O God who brought us to birth and in whose arms we die,
in our grief and shock,
contain and comfort us,
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in confusion
and grace to look to the future.

Whatever you feel is OK to feel – lament, emptiness, nothing, OK, anger, anger with God (God can take it!), …

The God who sees our tears,
the God who knows our pain,
the God who understands our emptiness
is with us…

Many right throughout the world are praying this prayer for us:

Prayer for the People of New Zealand
God of consolation
grant to those who suffer and sorrow at this time of devastation in Christchurch,
the spirit of faith and courage,
that they may have the strength to meet the days to come
with steadfastness and patience;
not sorrowing without hope
but clinging to your goodness and love,
through Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life,

(Adapted from a New Zealand Prayer Book)

Light a virtual candle. If you want to light a virtual candle go here.

Update: synchronously, later today the City Council announced plans for a memorial service.

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6 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday quake memorial”

  1. Padre, I shan’t comment on the new layout/design of the website, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I will state that I very much miss the comment count for a thread posted on the front page. That way I know at a glance whether new comments have arrived since I last visited.

    1. Thanks for that comment, Brother David. Much appreciated. Recently I have put far too much time, energy, and money into restructuring the site. I will pause a bit and make further alterations a bit more slowly. Headway 3.0, the theme that creates the “look” is also relatively new – and so, while there were some stressful teething problems at the launch, I’m not wanting to tinker too much as they are stabilising. In time I hope that there will be improvements in look and functionality, and that may include comments count on the home page. I hope I understand what you refer to – it is not just the “recent comments” that are down the right hand side of any individual post? [You probably realise the comment count is on individual posts, and also that you can subscribe to comments]. Thanks again for your helpful feedback. Blessings.

  2. The Revd Canon Dr Jim McPherson is an Australian Anglican priest, currently in Maryborough (Diocese of Brisbane). He was Distinguished Academic Visitor at Auckland’s Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre in 2008, and resumed writing poetry there after a break of several decades. This sonnet was inspired by seeing a beautiful sunset on the TV news coverage of the Christchurch earthquake.


    The glorious sunset at the earthquake site
    was beamed by satellite around the world;
    a poignant backdrop to the victims’ plight,
    entrapped and injured, numbed with fear and cold.
    The sunset fades. The battle lines are drawn.
    Some preachers urge repentance (“Heed the signs!”)
    which brings the scoffers out, with acid scorn:
    “That god’s unjust, capricious and malign.”
    The whole creation’s gripped by civil war
    while Death and Life contend through Nature’s laws
    which God set forth, but to injustice bend,
    surpassing all our human power to mend.
    Make peace, O God of justice, end the scorn
    and bring the new creation to its dawn!

  3. I missed the start of Lent last year in a haze of shock and trauma. It will be meaningful this year as I’m in recovery stage, but not sure how I plan to observe Lent. Your prayers and reflections in this post seem to “hit the mark” and I’ll be meditating on them.

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