This is my weekly newspaper article which appeared in the Evening Leader on Monday, Feb 22, 2021
We are now in the season of Lent, the time of preparation for believers that begins with Ash Wednesday and culminates in the celebration of Easter. Lent represents a tremendous journey. On Ash Wednesday, we identify that we are broken and fallen. We begin a season of self-denial and lifestyle adjustments designed to help us experience our fallen nature and remind us of the tag line of Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Not exactly the most hopeful celebration on the calendar. But Ash Wednesday does address something that we are extremely uncomfortable with in our modern culture: death. Ads on TV are selling us pain killers so that we can feel like we are 25 again, creams and medical procedures so we can look 25 again, and cars and other toys so that we can act like we are 25 again. My question is, how many of you remember being 25? I can’t think of a single reason why I would want to go back to that age again. No offense to any of you who are 25.
But it is our culture’s avoidance of the topic of death that makes us want to find the fountain of youth. I am not going to lie to you, I am a man of great faith and I am a believer in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, I still have concerns. Not doubts, I know where I will ultimately end up, but it is how I am going to get there that concerns me. Given some of the situations I have witnessed both personally and second hand due to my being a pastor gives me chills. I admit that there are some nights I struggle to sleep, and I deal with nightmares because what I have witnessed. Any one in a service oriented career field like mine knows what I am talking about. Death is not a happy topic, even if we are all looking forward to heaven.
That is why Ash Wednesday is such an important date on our calendar. It is the time that we are faced with the reality of what we are. Sure, there is a lot about dying that we don’t know, but Ash Wednesday is the reminder that someday we will find out.
This fear of the unknown and the dread around the topic of death that we remind ourselves of on Ash Wednesday that makes the journey toward Easter so wonderful. Not only are we aware of just how fragile life is, so did our Heavenly Father. If not for the intervention of God through His only Son, death would be all we would ever have. Our loved ones would just be gone and there would be no hope available beyond this life. But God didn’t leave us in just such a condition. We have Easter, which is the opposite of Ash Wednesday, to look at what is wonderful about being a Christian. We have the chance to know abundant life. True, that doesn’t take away the fear of death that we all feel but it does let us know that the experience of death will not be our end. It will be a transition from this life to the next, a transition that Jesus assured the thief on the cross would take place today, according to Luke 23:43.
I pray that you are taking the journey of Lent seriously because in reflecting on what it means for us to be dust, we get the chance to compare death to the truth that we are redeemed and saved by God. If we truly reflect on our condition during the Lenten season, we will arrive at the Good News of Easter and truly be moved by just how good it is.
If living through the year 2020 has taught us anything, it is that humans can live without a lot of things, but hope is not one of them. Despair is one of the most dangerous experiences a person can endure. No one understood that more than God. That is why we have the stark reality of Ash Wednesday which leads to the enteral encouragement of Easter Sunday morning. The season of Lent is designed to remind us just how bad our situation was leading up to Easter when the women followed by Peter and John arrive at the grave only to find (spoiler alert) Jesus’ body not there. Those folded graveclothes and the angel asking the obvious question (why look for the living among the dead?) gave us the first evidence that death will not be the end of our lives.