Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday is an infrequent reminder our mortality is a part of our theology.

"By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground from which you were made.
for you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” 
Genesis 3:19
                My mother had a different way of saying this. “You made your bed,” she’d say, “now you have to sleep in it!” She loved us enough to teach us behavior has consequence. Ash Wednesday is an infrequent reminder our mortality is a part of our theology.  As I age, more of the parts of my body begin to return to the dust of their beginning. “Ashes to ash, dust to dust!”
            I spent a lifetime “making my bed.” I have but a few years left to figure out how to get sound sleep in it. The ashes applied to my forehead this day and those I apply to the forehead of others are intended as a guide. The ashes are a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. They are applied in the shape of a cross. The intersection of the two beams of the cross symbolizes the place in the community where the need of others intersects with our gifts, resources and the time we have left on this earth. And so the very symbols of our limited lives, i.e. the ashes, form another symbol. The cross is our unquestioned symbol of the hope of God.
            The words from Genesis are attributed to God, pronouncing sentence on Adam. Like us Adam and Eve are busy pointing the finger of blame at one another and the hapless serpent as God speaks. Like us, they may or may not have heard God’s words. Thus we have Lent, a 40 day season beginning with Ash Wednesday. Lent begins 40 days before Easter on Ash Wednesday, a season of reflection and preparation to replicate Jesus' solitude in the desert for 40 days.  Lent is an old English word meaning 'lengthen'. Lent is observed in spring, when the days begin to get longer.
            Lent is often used in a light hearted manner to set goals such as eating less chocolate. Our world might benefit from a deeper 40 days of reflection and introspection. We have spent a lifetime making our bed. It includes endless war, hungry children in the midst of wealth, divisive dialogue about what it means to have a relationship with God and one another. The very planet God created for us to live out God’s hope is threatened by our selfishness. And as we go the way of the dust and the ashes, our children and grandchildren will be left with this legacy.
            The Rule of Benedict, a book of precepts written by St. Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally, describes the purpose of this season. “Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scrapping the sludge off a life turned slipshod.” In other words, we have made our bed…and perhaps God would be more pleased with a Lenten Season filled with serious thinking about how we are going to sleep in the bed we have made for ourselves and our children. If you also want to quit eating chocolate, go ahead.

You are invited to join us at Highlands Presbyterian Church at 12:15 today for a traditional Ash Wednesday observance. We will begin Lent together, as a community.

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