You are running. Running fast, running free. Running like the wind, throwing off everything that entangles, all that inhibits. Running, the wind in your hair and smile on your face. Running with perseverance and with faith.
But then, out of nowhere, comes a rope. A trip wire. A word. A sentence. A doubt. An accusation. A memory. A flashback. A past pain, re-ignited. A former wound, re-opened. It comes charging out of the wilderness and hits you full on. Takes you down. Leaves you, winded and shocked with no idea what to do. Looking around, you are sat in the place you thought you left long ago. You are sat in the ashes of the grief of years gone by.
And the ashes are still hot. Still they burn your face and your hands as you lie, and you weep at the pain that still tears into your very being. Just one word, one memory, one conversation, one action, and you are back in the ashes. The burning ashes of past hurts. The anger of injustice. The resentment, the bitterness still burns as you sit, wailing, in the ashes.
The sun goes down, and thoughts run through your mind, sparking doubts, creating questions. Why now, God? I was doing so well. Why this? You know how much it hurts. You know that this still burns. Can you not hear my cries? Can you not see the pain, the anguish? Why, O God, did you let me fall?
The darkness has come, and all around you people are running, fast and free, but you are alone in the glowing embers, questioning, fearful, doubting. Hurt, angry and alone.
Hours pass. Days, months, maybe even years go by as you sit in the ashes of yesterday’s grief. Unsure of where to go next, dusty and dirty from the ashes that surround, it feels as if you will never be rid of the ash that clings to every part of who you are. You are helpless in the ashes. In the darkness of the night, there is only weeping, and all you can see around are the ashes of all that once was. It seems utterly hopeless.
But then, as you lament and question, ponder and weep, there appears a figure. Dazzling white, the brightness of His very being brings light into the darkness. Fearful, you shrink away. Is it really Him? So bright, so clean, so holy. You scoot back across the ground, trying to get away, to protect Him from the mess of your ashes. Such clean whiteness should be nowhere near such a stinking mess as the one in which you have dwelt for so long.
‘No. Stop. Please. Don’t come any closer’, You shun the brightness with words and actions in fear that your darkness, your questions, your pain and your ashes will overwhelm and overcome the pure beauty of the One who approaches.
But still He comes. He draws ever closer to the mess in which you sit, until He is standing right beside you. You look up, expecting to see judgement, disgust, anger for the way in which you have acted, the way in which you have burnt and destroyed all that was given to you to look after. But as you look up, you see Him kneeling down beside you, His pure white robe drawing close to you as He joins you in the ashes.
But there is more than that. As He kneels, he begins to sweep. With His robe, with His nail-scarred hands, He scoops up the ashes that surround. Those that are still burning, He takes without flinching. And as He does this, He looks at you in a way you cannot even begin to express. Love, joy, adoration. Forgiveness, acceptance, peace.
With the robe that He wears, He wipes the ashes from your face, from your hands and from your body, until He is filthy and you are clean. He looks away and towards the pile of ashes in front of Him, the ones He lovingly swept up at the expense of His own cleanliness. He looks at them, and gathers up in those wounded hands the dirt and the mess and the burnt up pieces in which you have been sitting, which you tried to hide, over which you lamented and questioned. In which you were angry and bitter at the very One who now takes them onto Himself.
And then, from the ashes, from the dirt and the grime, the smelly, sticky, dirty fragments of all you have done, and all that has been done to you, all the pain and the questioning, the lies, the fears and the wrongdoing, He does something incredible. From the ashes He creates a masterpiece. A crown of the utmost beauty. The utmost splendour, fit only for the best of the best.
Holding the crown before Him, He gazes upon you. You, dishevelled and snivelling. You, shaking and confused. He gazes upon you in complete and utter adoration. And gently, ever so gently, He places the crown upon your head. He places the crown upon your head, and takes another pure white, dazzling robe, and with it He covers your trembling form. The ashes of yesterday are gone, and a crown of beauty adorns your head.
Undeservedly beautiful, unjustifiably pure, you get up off the ground, and stand next to the One who took your ashes, and who gave you a crown in the place of them. Wholly and blameless, you stand with the One who came to you in your wailing, in the darkest night, and brought hope to the hopeless. He turns, and offers you His hand. And there, in the place in which you sat, dirty and alone, wailing and burning in the ashes of grief, it is there that you dance. You dance with the One who took the ashes you had made, and replaced them with a crown of beauty.
And as you dance, joy fills you. Incomparable, incomprehensible joy overwhelms your soul. You have been crowned as royalty by the King of Kings. The dirty, smelly ashes in which you thought you would remain have gone forever. Helpless and hopeless, you were met by the One who saves. The redeemer. And He redeemed what you thought was irredeemable. And not only did He redeem it, but He made it beautiful. Through His sacrifice, the dirtying of Himself with the filth of your ashes, you have been made clean, and you have become whole.
‘To provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair’ – Isaiah 61:3
‘You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy’ – Psalm 30:11