Today is day one of my 2008 Lenten observance. For several years I have recorded my daily Lenten observations on this blog, partly as a Lenten discipline, but mostly to share my thoughts with others going through the same exercise. You can view my earlier Ash Wednesday (2007, 2006, 2005) postings for additional insights to this unique day in the Christian Liturgical calendar.
The key phrase from today is:
To dust you shall return.
We all die. No exceptions, unless you want to include the biblical personages of Enoch and Elijah. Yet, even those two, who were taken up into heaven, are slated for death, according to many theologians, as the two witnesses slain in the Book of Revelation during the last days.
In the current state that humanity finds itself, life leads to death. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the fact that death is real and it is coming for us all. We cannot run from it, or hide from it. Some of us may try and push it back with technology, but in the end it comes for us, every one of us.
Liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday is the transit point on our spiritual journey, which began with the birth of Jesus, ending last Sunday in the feast of the Transfiguration, the mountain top experience. But from that mountain, we descend with Jesus, Peter, James, and John remembering that Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus his coming death. Three days later, we have Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
Now for 40 days and 6 Sundays we will traverse the slow inexorable path to center of our faith, to the foot of the cross and the nexus point of history. This is about not just human history but the history of creation itself, since Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves… Romans 8:19-23a
So, today we begin our time of reflection and spiritual discipline, preparing ourselves by prayer, repentance, and fasting to meet our risen Lord on Easter morning.
We do not do these things to make us holy. Spiritual discipline does not result in holiness; instead it is the result, the fruit of holiness. Holiness is a choice we make, from which the fruit of spiritual discipline grows, not the other way around. Expecting acts of discipline, both spiritual and temporal to make us holy runs flush up against Paul’s warning in Colossians:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” referring to things that all perish as they are usedaccording to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-23
In other words, they do not produce holiness. My Lenten observations, in and of themselves, will not make me holy. It is only because of my growing holiness that I can even pursue my Lenten observations.
Join me, if you dare, on my journey to the foot of the cross, to the stone closing on the door of the tomb, to death, so that in the celebration of that unique sacrifice, the nexus, the pivot point of all history, the stone tablets will be broken, not by anger but by the act of God in the resurrection of the new Adam, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, ushering in life and grace and peace with God.
There is room for you to come along…