Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday (a former post revisited)

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. While more and more Baptist churches are learning the benefits of observing the season of Lent, some still wonder if this isn't too Catholic for we Protestants to bother with. "You know, pastor" a concerned church member will say, "I can't find Lent or Ash Wednesday anywhere in the Bible." I always find such objections a little weak. In my tradition we gladly celebrate Mothers Day, the Forth of July, and a number of other secular holidays with out batting an eye or caring that they aren't in the Bible. But we've had objections to observing a holy day that had 1500 years or so of church history behind it. That just doesn't seem right.

Whether we officially observe Ash Wednesday or not, the themes of this day are essential to any person's life of faith. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." That exact phrase is not in the Bible, but it is thoroughly biblical. Job, in the midst of his suffering laments, "I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more." We are mortals - though we spend a life time trying to forget that fact. As a preacher, I've attended more funerals than most, and yet, I admit, it takes a conscious effort to remember as I leave a cemetery, "One day they'll lower me down in this ground, too."

Remembering one's mortality is important for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps things in proper perspective. On those rare moments when my mortality sneaks up and slaps me in the face, like after the death of a friend, I find myself taking better stock of life. What matters? What am I after? Who do I love? Do they know I love them? Stuff and stats cease to be as important. Also, facing one's mortality sharpens the realization that one needs a Savior. I can do lots of things. I can't escape death. I've lived long enough to realize, I can't even get ready for death without some major intervention. My sins are too great, my will too weak. I need a Savior. And there it is. That's why I need days like Ash Wednesday. Because too often, I forget that I'm going to die (one thing I am good at is self deception!). When I forget that, I forget almost everthing that matters.

Dear God of life and love,
Remind me of who I am -

a man of dust and doubt and
deceit - of others and myself.
a man of sin in my core
and in my deeds.
a man of limited days.
a man who'll die.
a man who's dying.

Dear God of life and love,
Remind me of who I am -

a man who's been found, forgiven, and
restored - to you and to others.
a man who's been bathed in grace
and raised to life.
life with you, today,
and forevermore.
a man who, yes, will die.
but also a man who will live!
a man who lives!

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