Today the journey toward Jerusalem begins.
Today we remember many things. We remember that we are mortal. We remember that we came from the dirt of the earth, and to that dirt we will return. We remember that we are nothing more than dust.
We will die one day. It’s a fact we all know, but we don’t want to think about it until it happens to us, or to someone we know. I see it everyday as a hospital chaplain. People with cancer, or COPD, or heart disease. They all have similar questions: Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong? I thought I was healthy.
Death is a scary thing.
I’m beginning to think more and more that Lent is mostly about death. After all, we practice asceticism with pomp and circumstance, smearing ashes on our heads for the world to see, loudly proclaiming via social media posts what we’re sacrificing in the name of God. We practice “dying” to chocolate, or desserts, or carbs. We want to “die” to bad habits, to enter into a period of going without for the sake of the gospel. It’s supposed to prepare us for the joy of Easter. But is that really what happens? I’m not sure.
Self-sacrifice is a big part of Lent, but I think maybe we can frame it differently. If Lent is about death, then I want to die to self-indulgence when it means others don’t have enough. I want to die to my systemic participation in systems of oppression and injustice. I want to die to the ignorance that blinds me to the suffering of others. I want to die to the myths of the broken world, and rise again with the truth of the gospel in my heart.
So this Lenten season, I am thinking about death, not in terms of going without, but as a way of journeying with Christ toward his own death. Following Christ means obeying him. It means living as a disciple in both word and deed. It means letting him be taken from Gethsemane and hung on a cross. It means deep, deep suffering and loss.
There’s something else it means too. But we have about 40 days (minus Sundays) until we get to that part.
So for now, as I smear ashes on the foreheads of nurses and care partners throughout the hospital this day, as I read scripture and pray for forgiveness, I will remember that without the work of God’s holy Spirit, I would be inanimate and lifeless dust in the ground. But I’m not. I get to be Christ’s hands and feet instead, moving about the earth and proclaiming the good news of the gospel. This annual journey is about preparing myself for that proclamation, to share it faithfully and with great joy.
Let us enter into the stillness of the season. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Let it be. Amen.