All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. – Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NIV)
My congregation joined together with three other congregations for a Thanksgiving service. It was an enjoyable celebration, and our congregations looking forward to worshipping together again. On Wednesday, I met with this group of pastors to discuss plans for Lent, which led to a conversation about ashes and Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday, we are marked with ashes as a sign of our mortality. It’s not about shame and sinfulness but recognition that we are not immortal – we are not God. It is a sobering service, but is preparation for Lent as we contemplate Jesus’ death before the great celebration of life on Easter.
This may be the season of Epiphany, but this week has been more like Ash Wednesday.
Yesterday there was a shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport – 24 hours before Dave is scheduled to fly in there. This isn’t really a close brush with death, but it brings a nearness that causes you to think, “What if?” I’m not usually worried about his safety when he flies, but I can have confidence of his safety for this trip because Ft. Lauderdale is probably now the safest airport in America – at least for today.
Our other not-quite brush with death began before Christmas, when I noticed a lump in my breast. This led to an irregular mammogram that led to a diagnostic mammogram that led to an ultra-sound that led to a biopsy – which resulted in a benign fibroadenoma. (Thanks be to God!) I’m not a worrier, but from Tuesday when I received the call to schedule the follow-up mammogram and ultra-sound until Friday morning when I received the call that the lump was benign, it was a time of contemplating my mortality.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21 (NIV)
Too often, we choose one end of the spectrum or the other. We ignore the reality of death thus failing to truly value life. Or we focus on death, finding ourselves unable to live.
Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” In a world where people shoot other people and cancer takes lives, our mortality is something we face, even when we try to ignore it. I can’t say I was afraid or really worried this week. However, my mind did wander through possible scenarios, none of them pleasant. That being said, death doesn’t scare me.
I’ve written about fear and death before. I don’t think I have an extra measure of faith that keeps me from fearing death. I think I comprehend my mortality, understanding it in the context of my faith. As a result, I have a lighter embrace on life. As I’ve reflected on that, it doesn’t decrease the value of life for me. Rather, I believe my light hold allows me to enjoy and appreciate life even more.
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)
But between dust and dust, don’t forget to live.