Friday, February 22, 2013
Ash Wednesday 2013
It’s not easy for us to remember that we’re going to die, someday.
It’s inconceivable for this kids who are, here, and maybe just a little more conceivable for those who are more mature in years, but still extremely unpleasant. We also, however, know people who have said top us or to others, “I have lived too long. I am ready for God to take me home.”
We don’t want to think about it, though, until it is time. This may even be true for those who have seen death, both timely and untimely. We may have sen death in war, or the death of elderly and not so elderly, loved ones, or car accidents, or disease. Through those occurrences, there may be a few of us who are slightly more settled with the concept of death than others, but it is still uncomfortable for all of us.
And yet the traditional language of Ash Wednesday is nothing but the contemplation of returning to dust.
There’s a scene in the movie “Dead Poets’ Society” in which the English teacher, Mr. Keating, has taken all of his students to the awards case in the school’s foyer. He bids them to look at the pictures, see the faces, see their pride, their arrogance, their power, and their joy. He says that these boys in these pictures were once exactly like them, with pimples, hormones, wonderings about their future. He tells them that all that is different between the boys in the pictures and the boys staring at them are that the boys in the pictures, grew, up, married, had children, grew old, and have died. They are no more. They have gone the way of all flesh. But their voices still speak to us.
It is the ultimate stroke of humility in our lives to realize that, after all, we are not immortal. We are not indestructible. Just as that foyer had those photos in them of those who had gone before, so too we have the photos in our churches, large Sunday school classes, social groups, people who were once young and vital, and their parents and grandparents. They were just like us, in all the ways that matter. Some hated paczski, some loved them, some could not conceive of getting ashes on their foreheads, as too Catholic of a thing, others did so without a thought.
They had the same frustrations about parenting and weather, and people not showing up for church roast beef dinners enough. They lived the same lives we did. And now they are gone.
And there will be a time in which we will no longer be here, either. There will be a time in which we are not.
From dust we have come, to dust we shall return.
You might be uncomfortable right now, wondering why the preacher is hitting so strong on the idea of death.
It is, in part, that idea of a finite amount of time on earth that gives us the permission to not feel like we need to finish the Work of God before we are Gone. We know, most likely, that we will leave the job undone.
It is a relief, perhaps, to realize that. While we are not permitted to abdicate our responsibility to share God’s love, to comfort the sick, feed the hungry, neither are we required to finish the building of the Beloved Community. God has designed it this way, and we know this by the fact that we do, in fact, return to dust.
We’re only called, just like the people in all those photos on the walls, to do the best we can while we’re here.
We are indeed God’s children, put on earth for a finite amount of time, a time span which we don’t know the length of, and neither do our families, or our doctors.
And we are given a task with that time. The general task comes from Scripture: To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ. The United Methodist church adds on “for the transformation of the world.”
But how we do that, how we use the gifts and graces we’ve been given in the time we have, this is the riddle of life, this can be what Lent is for.
Once we realize we are not immortal, once we realize that we must decide how our gifts and graces should be used to construct our own little piece of the community, this can be what Lent is for.
Once we realize we are not responsible for the whole world, that weight of the world slips off our backs, and we take responsibility of just what is in front of us.
There’s the story of the guy walking down the beach, throwing starfish into the ocean. A friend comes along and tells him he’s nuts, and does he really think he can save every starfish? And he replies “well, I made a difference for that one!”
That’s all were called to do, with the time we have. And Lent is the time we can use to rededicate ourselves to our task.
And it starts with the reminder, tonight, that we are finite.