Yesterday, the Vista staff did a walkthrough of the Expo Center in preparation for Easter Sunday. This is the time of celebration where we will proclaim that Jesus is risen! Easter is coming, a time of new life and new birth. As Christians, we boldly proclaim that God is making all things new. This hopeful exuberance is contagious. The joy and optimism spreads into our bones. This is why we gather at the Expo. This is why we sing songs loudly. This is what we remember when we take communion. This is the Good News that we want to the whole world to know. Jesus is risen indeed!
But, sometimes we turn Easter’s promise of hope into today’s promise of success. Things can get better. I can move up in the world. With no hindrances to get in my way, we can be bigger, stronger, and faster. Productivity will solve my issues. I can grow my business. I can climb the corporate ladder. I can be noticed and prominent and rich and successful and needed.
I can be like God.
How quickly we twist the beauty and goodness of God. Just like in the Story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), God’s love and blessing becomes means to self-promotion. Keep moving up. Keep climbing the ladder.
But we are dust. We are fragile and finite humans. We are mortal and incredibly limited.
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV)
In the beginning of the story of humanity, God is reminding Adam and Eve of their state. We are mortal. We are finite and limited. We are dust.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten Season in the Christian Calendar. Today we remember we are dust and ash. We remember our limitedness.
For hundreds of years Christians have started the journey toward Easter with Ash Wednesday, remembering our mortality. But why? While living in a fast-paced and ladder-climbing world – where everyone is reaching and climbing – Ash Wednesday and Lent slows us down. We are forced to remember our limits and fragile nature. Because sometimes it feels as if we are unable to step off the treadmill of work and family and school and church and sports and vacation and so on.
In her song Light On, Maggie Rogers says:
“Oh, I couldn’t stop it
Tried to slow it all down…
But everything kept moving
And the noise got too loud
With everyone around me saying
‘You should be so happy now’”
We “should” be happy, but sometimes we feel we are too busy or important to be happy. So Lent, the season leading to Easter, slows us down. The ashes of Ash Wednesday unite us together as the Church. The strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the old and the young – all are mortal, all are weak, all are marching toward returning to dust. It is in this state we are truly united to each other, to our neighbor, to the poor, to the hurting, to the whole world. Remembering our mortality is the great leveling field. Presidents and homeless are on equal standing. Drew Holcomb says, “Some folks ain’t got a dollar to their name, others got their own jet planes. We all go the same blood running through our veins.”
We are all dust.
So if we are dust, if we are dying, we might have some questions. How am I living? What are my priorities? How can I change? What does it mean to be human?
Lent is about embracing our mortality and finitude. By embracing death fully, we can later fully embrace life. Just as Jesus went into the barren wilderness before he started his ministry (Matthew 4), we enter into a period of denial and fasting. Then we can enter into and embrace the bounty and beauty of resurrection.
Many Christians fast during this season of lent. Fasting is choosing to abstain from certain foods or practices or habits. The choice of denial reminds of the things that are putting a hindrance between us and God. Many parts of my life continue to tell me the lie that I am strong, powerful, important, and going places. We give those lies to Jesus and remember to be a Christian is to embrace the lowly and weak, the broken and slow. We proclaim new life through death and downward descent. Welcome to the way of the Kingdom of God.
So I encourage you to embrace your mortality. Remember you are but ash. Consider fasting from something during this season leading to Easter. And may God do a beautiful work in you during this season, as we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
This year, we challenge our church to partake in Lent as we build up to the celebration of Easter. If you want a great place to begin, check out Vista Kids’ Lent Prayer Guide.