Thank you for asking me to share an Ash Wednesday meditation. It has been a great privilege to be in a partnership of mission with you in the last few months and we as a benefice are looking forward to developing our partnership to more visible forms in the coming months.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
These are the words used in the Anglican liturgy when the priest puts sign of Cross on the forehead of the believer. At an intellectual level we know what that first part of this statement mean, we will all die one day and our body will return to dust. Our reason and logic support this theological formula as there is no empirical evidence that proves even in this age of cryogenic freezing that death is avoidable.
One of my favourite teachers a Franciscan monk called Richard Roher in one of his talks said if we put the whole history of the world from the time of the big bang to today, humanity existed only in the last few hours of December 31st. During most of history humanity let alone you who read this never existed. However here we are exploiting and destroying the resources of the world faster than ever in the billions of years of history before. This analogy hits the nail on the spot – we are not as significant as we think we are.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. The significance of these words never resonated more deeply in my heart before last Ash Wednesday as I imposed an ash cross on my then four year old son’s head. As I uttered the words I felt my hands shook and as if a dagger going through my heart. I consider- just like most other parents would- my children as the greatest possession that I ever had and ever will have. But yet I was reminded that he too is just dust and one day he too will return to dust.
Lent traditionally is a time when we take that extra care to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord and redeemer. It is also often a liturgical season when we give up something that is material and take up something that is spiritual.
Christianity is a religion of paradoxes or apparent contradictions. It is a religion that teaches that we are the strongest when we are the weakest. Our saviour and God is not a victorious King but a man who was born in a manger under a regime of oppression, lived the life of a poor preacher and died even without a good trial on a cross just like many criminals under the Roman government. This paradox reaches it zenith as we Christians call the day Christ died Good Friday’, not a ‘bad’ or ‘sad’Friday. This nature of paradox is so rooted in the core of our faith as we believe Christ died so that we may live.
Christian journey is not a journey without death but it is a journey through death. We believe baptism is the symbol of death of old self and resurrection of the new in Christ. It is not easy to understand, not because we lack knowledge but because it is mysterious; something beyond reason. This is what we call the paschal mystery; this is why we proclaim at the Eucharist ‘this is the mystery of faith’.
It is this understanding and belief in this paradox that leads us to the path of giving up things that are self-gratifying and taking up things that are spiritual and selfless in the season of Lent. A time to realise that it is not in accumulating but giving up is the joy, a time to realise that it is through death that we can enjoy life to the full.
May I invite you to think in this season of Lent how we can try to emulate the calling for us to be the disciple of Christ Jesus, who died on a cross for us, through may be giving up something that we do for self-gratification and by taking up something that is for the good of others.