Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, from the earth you came, to the earth you shall return.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of lent, a 40 day preparation towards the cross and ultimately resurrection. It is a time of preparation, it is a time of in some ways dying.
Because death is the engine of life.
Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it can never be anything more than a seed. Lent is a somber time in which we make an inward journey, dying to self so that come easter we might find new life in some form.
But we hate when death comes around. You get a phone call that a loved one has died, or you get a diagnosis from the doctor and suddenly everything changes. What you thought you knew about life and faith all come into question. You now find realities that you never imagined could even be possibilities. Your world is shattered into a billion pieces and you don’t even know if the pieces can be picked up, much less where to begin. They are gone. You are going.
Everything has changed.
Death in this moment seems so big. In an instant it is able to change your entire world. And the life you lived, the faith you believed, the dreams you had held dear are gone. You can never be that person, you can never believe quite the same as before, and those dreams are now no longer a possibility. In this instant, you suddenly realize how precious and fragile life is and how quickly and easily it can be taken away and everything change.
And in this moment we have to decide how to react. For many of us we become worriers. We have come face to face with death, it has destroyed our life, and we know it will be coming again, it’s only a matter of time. Each time a loved one doesn’t answer their phone your heart sinks and you think, ok, I knew it was coming. We begin to take every precaution we can to keep death at bay. We become fearful and serious. Constantly afraid, constantly worried, constantly trying to control every aspect of life because we’ve lost control of it before and we are determined to do everything we can to keep from losing it again.
To keep from feeling that pain, that loss again.
When death comes near it bleeds onto us. The loved one dies, but so do you. You receive the diagnosis and you’ve got a certain amount of time left, but in that moment in many ways you died already.
The question isn’t whether you die in those moments, you do. The question is what kind of death do you experience?
Oddly enough when we are faced with death and we become aware of the frailty of life and the fact that we might not make it through today we actually begin to enjoy life less. We let the fear and anxiety and worry overtake us, we try to control everything and in the process we lose the joy that makes life worth living. It is in these moments that we should become determined to make each moment more enjoyable and meaningful precisely because it could all end tomorrow.
Lent is a somber time where we die in many ways, but the point of facing our mortality is that we will appreciate the life we’ve been given. That instead of becoming bitter by our encounters with death we actually become better. Instead of giving up when everything comes crashing down we realize that it is an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, to figure out what’s truly important to us, and re-imagine what life could be like if we were to realign our lives around those most important things. It is an opportunity to live a new life, discover a new faith, and dream new dreams.
This doesn’t meant that we become glad tragedy has happened. I’ve yet to meet a person who is glad that tragedy struck because of the new opportunities it gave. Even if their life overall has become better because of it, most of us would still rather have that person back, or the additional time they thought they had.
Yet, with time we also begin to realize the truth of something that my father used to say regularly,
“Death is a part of life.”
Death comes. It comes to our loved ones and it will come to us. We can try to fight it, but no one cheats it. Hopefully, our worst nightmares won’t come true. However, if it does we want to make sure that the time we’ve had has been well spent. And hopefully, if we truly learn to live life well, by the time it truly comes for us we can be ready and embrace it as an old friend,
knowing that resurrection lies ahead.