Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is the day in which we who are followers of Jesus do as he did and turn our faces toward Jerusalem, knowing as Jesus did this means suffering and death. On Ash Wednesday we, like the person in the image above, come face to face with the terrible reality that we are mortal.
Far too often I've read and heard critics of the Christian faith claim ours is a faith that denies death. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our most holy and solemn feast days and seasons begin with the affirmation of death. Death in all its horrible ultimacy; death in all its barren emptiness; death in its monstrous potential to tear apart the living. We Christians no more deny the horror of death than we deny any other reality.
On Ash Wednesday, we believers are called to remember that we have been created from dust and it is a simple reality that to dust we shall return. We cannot embrace the hope and promise that is the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ unless we confront the awful reality that our days are numbered, and once our final day arrives, absent the grace of the Father in the Son through the Spirit, we face what the Bible calls "the final enemy" alone, without hope.
This is the terrible reality of Ash Wednesday. Yet, there is even on this solemn day, a measure of Good News; precisely because we do this remembrance as followers of the crucified and risen Christ we need not fear this reality. That death is a monster goes without saying; that we need not fear it because our hope and our trust lie in the One who defeated death on Easter Sunday, even as we call to mind our own mortality, we also are reminded that we do not rest on any strength or ability that is ours. Rather, we have the Advocate who has already beaten back death. We can look in the abyss of our own tomb and praise the Living God as the One who will call us out to a new creation.
I look forward to taking the ashes tonight, knowing I am coming face to face with the great enemy with the power of the Incarnate Son of God on my side. I can then move forward through Lent, holding this moment as a word, just not the final word, of my existence.