Hi everyone. Rob here.
Tomorrow is the start of Lent – the 6 weeks or so of preparing ourselves for the cross and resurrection of Jesus our Messiah. It’s a day known as Ash Wednesday. It’s a day to reflect on our mortality, our humanity and our need for God. The sprinkling of ashes is to remind us that we came from dust and to dust we will return. I encourage you to research Lent a bit more. Getting to know our church traditions that are centuries old has been a source of spiritual encouragement for me.
All this emphasis on our mortality, on repentance, on giving things up can seem depressing, sombre at best. Isn’t the Christian message about new life, resurrection and eternity? I mean, ashes for goodness sake! Shall we dress in sackcloth as well? Flagellate ourselves and eat locusts? Is this the image of being a Christian that we want to present to the world. Doesn’t it seem unhelpful and unhopeful?
And yet, if the goal is to present ourselves as shiny happy people to the world we have missed the point that Jesus himself seemed to make; that we are a fallen, fragile people desperately in need of the rescue that God offers us through Jesus. From dust we came and to dust we will return. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. Those are the two messages of Ash Wednesday, and indeed, of all of Lent. Face reality and get ready for the rescue. You’re not saving yourself. You’re not making yourself eternal. You are not God but God is calling to you through the eternity set in your heart. But here’s the paradox; you get to the eternity by coming to grips with your mortality. We get to God by embracing our humanity. We get to the rescue by repenting; to resurrection by dying.
So here’s our opportunity to get rid of our delusions of grandeur, our god-complexes, whatever it is that says to the world, look at me. Anything that says you are the centre of all things has to go. It may be your pride and it may also be your shame. You may say ‘I am great’ or you may say ‘I am no good’ or you may say both several times in one day but both those statements are about you and get in the way of embracing your humanity right now. True humanity embraces our need for God; our need to worship him, draw life from him, be led by him, fathered and mothered and brothered and sistered and friended and loved by him; and it all begins with, ‘from dust we came and to dust we will return.’
The prodigal son came to his senses in the pig sty; Moses encountered God cut off from his people in the desert; the angel visited Daniel in exile in Babylon; Jacob dreamt of his ladder with his head on a rock in the wilderness. God meets us when we are ready and we are ready when we’re weak and vulnerable and we can’t be weak and vulnerable when we’re trying to be replacements for God instead of children of God.
The ash you will soon place or have placed on yourself is a symbol of something very powerful. You are from dust and to dust you will return. You are not God but you gladly receive the gifts of God; forgiveness, mercy, grace, life and love. We say no to pride and no to shame and no to a me-centred existence. We enter into Lent embracing our human vulnerability rejoicing in a God who chose to join us there. Is there any greater validation of our humanity than the humanity of Jesus? Is there any greater validation of our mortality than the fact that the Son of God also stopped breathing. We are all mortal and God meets us there.
It means we carry a hope for those we’ve lost and we acknowledge that mortality means loss and grief and pain. We’ve all lost someone. We will lose many but we don’t lose Jesus who also wept at the tomb of a friend. Receive your ashes, embrace your mortality, confess your need for your God and repent for the kingdom of God is near.
Grace and peace everyone.