So about Ash Wednesday. . . It’s coming, and coming soon.
And even though I’m a pastor and I spend months planning for the church’s observance, it always sneaks up on me. Personally, I mean. I am so wrapped up in helping others journey through Lent that I don’t have time to pause and consider how I want to experience the season. This year is no exception. In fact, it’s even more crazy than usual, because I’m without my incredible friend and former Administrative Assistant. (Miss you, Deb!) But somehow, the Spirit is speaking to me this year to get ready, to make plans, to actually live Lent.
I can’t do the self-flagellation, though. I’m not into asceticism and extreme fasting and making lists of all my sins (there’s not enough paper in the world for that list!) But the Old Testament reading from last Sunday struck a chord with me. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses speaks to the people about the covenant God has made with them, reminding them that God has chosen them and made them God’s people. And then Moses lays out the choice they have to make: they can either follow God’s commandments that lead to life, or follow another way and experience adversity and death. Verses 19-20 read, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.” It’s not a transactional arrangement: if you do this, then God will do this to you. It’s a matter of consequences. God’s greatest desire is for us to experience abundant life, and God’s commandments lead us there. But when we choose selfish gain or acquiring power or accumulating wealth instead of the commandments, we will run into trouble at every turn. God wants us to choose life.
What in the world does this have to do with Ash Wednesday, you ask?
We begin this Lenten season being marked with ash and soot. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
These words are jarring. We don’t want to remember that death is approaching. We don’t want to acknowledge that our lives will come to an end. We don’t want to live with a constant reminder of all the people we’ve lost, many of them way too soon. Ash Wednesday calls us to face reality, but we do not face it alone.
We willingly receive the mark of death on our forehead in the presence of the one who has faced death before us. Jesus the Christ, our brother, our savior, stands with us as we hear the ugly truth: “to dust you shall return.” But that is not the end of the story. Jesus also reaches out to us, offering the gift of abundant life through the power of his Resurrection. Jesus died so that we would not have to fear death, but could embrace the life we have been given. Like the Hebrews gathered with Moses, we can choose life.
This season of Lent, how will you choose life? Is there something you need to let go of, release, walk away from? Make this your Lenten discipline. Is there something new you can incorporate into your routine, a habit or a practice that will enrich your spiritual life? Make this your Lenten discipline. Whatever you choose, let it be life, abundant life, the life Jesus died to give us.