Daily Devotion - Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Today we begin the slow walk out of the grey of winter, through the valley of the shadow and on again toward Easter morning.
Every year at the onset of Lent I find myself drawn to T.S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday. Maybe it's because I'm always searching during this time of year for things to teach, to preach or to pray. And during those searches I recall a class I took a lifetime ago where we read and discussed the poem, and it never left me. These words in particular:
Wavering between the profit and the lossIn this brief transit where the dreams crossThe dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these thingsFrom the wide window towards the granite shoreThe white sails still fly seaward, seaward flyingUnbroken wings
Eliot captured in just a few words, the mystical and holy moment when we come to the crossroads between death and life, between our time and God's time and face the fact that life--the "dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying"--is far too short, but our hope is in the One who defeated death, and rose again.
Tonight as I officiate at the annual Ash Wednesday service at my church, I'll be called upon to place ashes in the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those who gather in worship. And I will say to them, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return."
In the past I resisted saying those traditional words of (dis)comfort when I imposed ashes on the faithful. I wanted to say something bright and cheery, words of encouragement. I didn't want to remind them of their mortality, nor did I want to bring to mind the frailty and brevity of their lives.
But, in the words of the author of Ecclesiastes, there is a time and place for every season under heaven--"a time to be born and a time to die." There is something strangely beautiful to face the truth of this, to confront it fully and completely. I find that I am drawn to Psalm 90 more and more as I grow older, and time seems to be moving faster:
"...we bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told.The days of our age are threescore years and ten;and though men be so strong that thy come to fourscore years, * yet is their strength then but labor and sorrow, so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."These are hard and wonderful words to hear: "...teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." This verse speaks these hard and wonderful words directly into my heart. My days are numbered. My life is brief. I have choices to make as to how I am going to spend those numbered days. Will I spend them fretting over "profit and loss?" Will I spend them mired in the mundane? Will I spend them pursuing things that have no place in eternity?
Or will I spend them pursuing things that matter, that will survive in this life and the next? Will I dedicate myself to doing whatever I can to show the world around me that Jesus is risen, life is precious, and death is merely a one more step in the eternal life I have with Him?
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." May you embrace these words with hope and peace. May you know that although you are frail, and your days are numbered, the God who loves you is infinite and almighty. May you keep a blessed and holy Lent. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.