Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 – Ash Wednesday
“The end is where we start from.” T.S.Eliot
Today is Ash Wednesday. Today, as Eliot points out, we start at the end. Each year on this day, we begin with the admission that we are simply dust and that when we die, we shall return to the ground. Today, we are honest about our fate: we get mixed in. We become indistinguishable from everything else subterranean. We become filler in between the rocks.
We will be gone, sooner than any of us likes.
Ash Wednesday begins Lent each year and begins the walk we make, spiritually, from where we are at this moment in our lives, to the Cross on Good Friday and the empty Tomb on Easter Sunday. It starts for us in church, at the altar, with other followers of Jesus. It starts with ashes, our prayers, the bread and wine made Holy by the Spirit, and our desire to lead a life closer to the one we want to present to God when we are finished with our earthly course.
The significance of ashes is clear: in Genesis, God takes dust, or dirt, and breathes life into that dust to create a human being. We are destined to become dust again at the end of our earthly life. Today, we admit that to ourselves and to each other, publicly. The ashes communicate what we dare not utter, even to our own souls. We acknowledge on Ash Wednesday that if we are to return to life after we die, any kind of life, we must rely on that power…again. The same power who breathed life into us by grace is the only power who can breathe it into us a second time.
This is our hope. Our outrageous hope.
The end, our end, is death. Not just death in the abstract, but the end. Of us. Of everything as we know it. The end includes the death of our loved ones. Of ourselves. Of nameless people on the planet who labor in other parts of the vineyard. We are surrounded by it. It scares us. It should.
I’m going to church today because it is my job. Not my paid job, but my job as a person, a person made in the image of God. I’m going because my earthly life will conclude. I’m going so I can remember that this inevitable end is also my beginning, the beginning of my trust that God will make provision even for someone like me.
I’m going to church today because I need to. I need to remember that my life is temporary. I need to remember the hope that everything I am currently living ends in God, and therefore, always begins again.
– Christopher Powell