“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Those are the words that are spoken at churches across the world today as Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is a day many people don’t like. They don’t like getting ashes on their forehead. They don’t like going to an extra church service. They don’t like not feeling happy (or rather that the focus isn’t on seeking happiness – most people aren’t happy already).
Yet, Ash Wednesday is different – it’s counter-cultural. We have ashes put on our forehead – a reminder and a sign and a symbol for all to see. A sign of our own mortality and how messy life really is. And it’s out there for all the world to see – no hiding it.
Ash Wednesday is a day we are confronted with our own fear – fear of death. And there is no escape, just like there is no escape from death.
The only other time we have to face this directly is when we go to a funeral. And even then, our culture is shifting this so we don’t have to deal with it directly. We have celebrations of life, remembrances of the person. We move to memorial services out of choice so that there is no body right there in front of us. But the reality is that the person we honor and celebrate is dead. And at some point, we will be too.
We fear being forgotten to history, like 99.999999% of everyone who ever lived.
Most people will personally know the two generations that came before them and will know the two generations that come after them. Sometimes we’ll be lucky and know the third or fourth generation either before or after us.
But beyond that, the people are just figures of the past, or imagination of the future. We also have been imagination of the future. We will be figures of the past in due time.
Tonight we are confronted with death. We don’t like to talk about death and our own mortality. Yet, we glorify it in our entertainment in unrealistic ways – maybe to further separate ourselves from it by making it ridiculous and outlandish. We try to put it away from our thoughts in reality though. But again, Ash Wednesday is a reminder – a reminder that is literally in our face, that we will all experience death. But death does not have the final say. It is not the end of the story. Jesus has conquered death and sin. As he was raised, so shall we.
Today we are reminded of our mortality. But we are also reminded that we are marked as Children of God. And that mark is in our face – literally. There is no hiding it. And from here, we are called to live out this mark in our world. A world that fears death and being forgotten. We go into the world with a message of hope and a promise of life. We are called to share this with those around us. To live differently. To do things and be people who break away from the dichotomies of this world – where power shifts from one bad option to the other. Instead, we are called to die to self, with ashes, and to live for new life, in a new kingdom.