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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 12:1–6, 12–14

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (NRSV)

I am going to die. You are going to die. We are all going to die. I know it is an uncomfortable reality to admit, but there it is. We are all going to die.

Death can be difficult, unpleasant, even terrifying. We like to think we have found ways to avoid or evade death’s power and presence in our lives. We live in a culture that tells us that if we buy enough skin-care products, if we diet, if eat healthily enough, exercise enough, or, if we can afford it, have elective surgery, we might just live forever. And yet we know that is not true.

Even so, death haunts us, death chases us; we fear death. Death is an unwelcome guest. We despise it.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent. Lent is the season in the life of the church when we are asked to journey through the wilderness with Jesus, turning our attention to ourselves, our relationships with God and others, and striving to return to a simple pattern of life. The season begins with a vivid reminder of death, as the words “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” are said while we mark our foreheads with ashes; dust, dirt—symbol of death.

Ash Wednesday might be the most honest day of the church year. There are no angels or virgin births that pique our curiosity. There are no shouts of glory and risen life that defy our scientific minds. Ash Wednesday is somber and blunt. We are mortal. We will not live forever.

And I breathe a sigh of relief. Admitting and facing my own mortality allows me to admit that God is God and I am not. It allows me to lay down my attempts to manage my own human brokenness and step into the deep and holy mystery that is the Christian life. Having confessed my sins and admitted my own mortality, I can freely live this incredible, mortal life that is my reality right now.

Perhaps more than that, it helps me to let go of my fear. Ash Wednesday reminds us that in spite of it all, death does not, will not, have the last word. While we and others have the power to destroy our mortal flesh, we will proclaim in just a few weeks that God destroys death. There is hope. There is promise.

O Christ, in this holy season, guide my thoughts and actions as I walk in the way of your cross, that I may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Worship and Adult Education Coordinator

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