From The Reverend
Barbara A. T. Wilson
Ash Wednesday, 2020
One of the things that always strikes me about this day is that we begin this fresh new season of Lent by remembering “the end.” Calling to mind
ending “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Those words are the hinge between a dusty beginning, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground”, and a dusty ending, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
A couple of weeks ago I was driving home from HyVee when I was overtaken by the thought, “I am finally of the age where I might expect my end,” as writer Rebecca Solnit mused about her own life upon turning 65. It was one of those days when the arthritis in my right knee had kicked in as it does when the barometer drops. From the day we are born death is a presence that accompanies us. It’s our constant companion, invisible and yet ever present. Regardless of who we are or where we go, it goes with us.
It would be a mistake, though, to think that death comes only at the end of our physical life.
Death can meet us all along the road of life through various guises that can high-jack our life. Death makes itself known in broken relationships, shattered dreams, and lost opportunities. Death often dresses itself in our regrets and disappointments. It comes in the form of addictions that are at the very least ways in which we waste the precious, limited hours of our life and sometimes hasten it’s end. We recognize death’s presence in those times when we betray ourselves and live contrary to who we truly are or want to be. We can try to forget, ignore, or deny death but no one escapes from its reality in various forms. But we know all of that!
So, what if escaping death isn’t the issue? What if we’ve not only missed the point of Lent, but maybe even missed the point of the gospel?
Maybe Lent and the gospel of Jesus are not primarily about being good; or a program for changing from a bad person with bad habits to a good person with better ones, so we can get a future reward.
I’ve got nothing against being a good person (whatever that means) but I’ve never read where Jesus said, “I came that you might be good, better, an improved version of yourself.”
Nope--Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Throughout the gospel he shows himself giving life, revealing life, and calling us to life. And that’s not about tomorrow, after you die, or some heavenly future. “Now is the day of salvation,” Paul tells us. Now, in this time and in this place, this very life!
And yet, how many of us grew up with the promise and hope of life after death as the chief tenet of our faith? For many of us life after death was, and maybe still is, the central focus and purpose of faith, Jesus, the Church. But the older I get and the more I experience, the more urgent life
Is there life in my marriage? In my parenting or grandparenting? In my priesthood? In my friendships? Is there life in the way I am living in this very moment? Is there life in the way I see the world and relate to others? Am I growing? Am I bringing life to others?
Is there life in me even as I stand before death? And if there’s not, why not?
What needs to change, to be let go of, to be done differently? These are questions for all of us now and through the weeks to come.
What if life
death is really what Lent is about? What if life
death is really what the ashes of mortality are pointing us to? What does life before death mean and call you to?
Think about it like this. Death is the frame around the picture of our life. It holds before us what is. It focuses our attention. It intensifies and prioritizes what really matters.
That this life does not last forever does not diminish life’s value, it
it value. The temporality of life means that this one moment, this one now, is precious. There will never be another moment like this one.
So given Christ’s command to love neighbor and ourselves, and God above all others—what are we to change in this season that invites, calls for life adjustments in order to enhance both your life and the lives of those around you----right now?
The question behind today’s ashes is not whether you will die,
the question is about your life.
What do you want to do with this, your one precious life?
The poet Mary Oliver captures this beautifully in her poem “When Death Comes.”
“When it’s over, I want to say:
all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up
simply having visited this world.”
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Yours in Christ,