Today, people around the world are all participating in a corporate reflection on, what any other day would be a particularly uncomfortable reality, the fact that we are inevitably going to die. Today is Ash Wednesday. It seems many people don’t understand what this day actually means, so lets look at it briefly…
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the Western Christian calendar. Occurring 46 days before Easter, it is a moveable fast that can fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting. Of the 46 days until Easter, six are Sundays and Sundays are considered “feast” days during Lent .
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a reminder and celebration of human mortality, and as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered from the burning of the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
This practice is common in much of Christendom, being celebrated mainly by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists.
Now that we got that out of the way….Some thoughts on today…
I feel that an interesting thing happens to us as humans when we are forced to deal with something in our lives that makes us deal with our mortality. The most common event that happens is when a spouse, family member, or loved one dies. As we cope with the fact that this person who was once so close to us is now gone, we are propelled into this depth of contemplation and self-reflection that causes us to acknowledge the reality that we are, in fact, not going to live forever on this earth. There is this intense dilemma we feel within ourselves that tells us that death is wrong. It feels as though it was never supposed to be this way. We try to reconcile within our hearts this unsettling discomfort with the world we are, even if for a few brief moments, forced to recognize and embrace.
In such a bleek, dark, and empty world, how do we find hope? How are we to find light in such thick, heavy, seemingly endless darkness? But we do have hope, don’t we? For those of us that have accepted the truth that Christ saves us from the REAL endless pit of darkness and hell that surely awaits us in this life and the next, we are bound to balance two worlds, two realities, within the context of our mind. In the one corner we have this very vivid, very evident reality that death is always around the corner. Death is in every room, every relationship, every shadow, every quiet moment, reminding us that we ultimately will die. Our life will cease. Our story will end.
In the other corner, we have a reality that tells us that death is not the end, but rather a transition into a greater life, a greater story. Some might argue that we transition into a reality that is, possibly, more real than this world, and this life. No matter your beliefs on Heaven, Hell, and the after-life, I believe we can all at least find common ground in this conversation, and agree that Christ offers us more than this world can. And in the same way that death reminds us of our mortality, Christ reminds us that this is not the end. Christ reminds us that we are characters in a story much greater than our own. A story that has no beginning and no end. A story where there is no such thing as a period at the end of the sentence…Or a last sentence…For that matter.
Lent is a time where we have the unique opportunity to focus on our mortality, our depravity, and our great need for a savior. I am weak, flawed, imperfect, sinful, and unworthy. I know that without Christ I am doomed from the start. I was born just as weak, flawed, imperfect, sinful and unworthy, and I will die the same. It seems a bit dark and depressing, right? But THIS Is why Christ is the Hope. If it weren’t for Christ, we would remain doomed, but with Him we no longer have to be. Christ is the revision to our story. Christ is the alternate ending.
Our story has the potential to be so much better than we could ever imagine. Let us face our mortality with confidence. For we have a hope, a hope that will be fully realized on Easter morning. So as we look in the mirror, let us look ahead.
“Remember that you are dust, and from dust you shall return.”