Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Remember That You Are Dust

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

I have, probably since I first went to Ash Wednesday worship as teen-ager, been uncomfortable with these words from the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday. I don’t like to be reminded of my mortality or my insignificance. And yet, as we have begun our Lenten journey, it is precisely that reminder that we need.

We are mortal. Time for us is not infinite, it is not, no matter what Mick Jagger may say, going to be on our side forever. There is an urgency about Lent – we need to get on with it and not assume that we will have plenty of time to deal with ourselves tomorrow or the next day or the next. Now, as Paul reminds us in his letter, “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” We are called to begin now, to begin the work of setting our lives in order, the work of repentance, the work of reconciliation.

But this reminder is not only about our mortality, about the inevitability of our death. It is also about our insignificance, our weakness, our inability, on our own, to do anything about setting our lives in order. The task is too big and we are but dust. But there is one who can set our lives in order. There is one who waits eagerly to do just that. It is the God whom we see in Jesus the Christ who can order our chaotic lives, and all that God asks of us is that we offer those lives at the foot of the Cross.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” All that is within me. Hold nothing back. Let God have it all. Our angers. Our frustrations. Our prejudices. Our pettiness. Our sins. As well as our joys. Our satisfactions. Our accomplishments. Let God have it all.

Far too often we make the mistake of leaving all the nastier parts, the more shameful parts at the door when we come to worship. But if we can’t bring those to God in our worship, where can we bring them?

I love to pray the psalms, not only for the beauty of the language, but also because in the psalms everything is brought to God. Everything is proper conversation with God. Nothing is held back. Not the psalmist’s rage or vindictiveness. Not the psalmist’s despair or sorrow. And certainly not the psalmist’s joy. All of it comes into the holy space of conversation with the God of Israel. And there, in that holy space, all of it is redeemed.

Lent is a holy space where we can bring everything to God, laying it at the foot of the cross. Hold nothing back. Let God have it all. And let God redeem it there at the cross, redeem it and so order our lives that we might, by God’s grace and mercy, receive that perfect gift, the Easter gift of resurrection life.

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