Facing Our Finitude

| February 16th, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

I admit, I had to laugh. 

It’s precisely not the moment to laugh, this somber ritual in worship where the ministers smudge ashes on the brows of their congregants. 

Yet on this Ash Wednesday night, I spotted my family moving forward in the line: Liam, then Annabelle, Silas, Josh, and Dad. But when Silas stepped up for his ashes – his little hand pushing his wild hair out of the way, my ashy finger outstretched – he decided that he’d pass. “I changed my mind,” he whispered loudly, scampering away to receive communion instead.

Can you blame him? I chuckled, thinking of how Silas speaks for so many of us who would rather disappear than face our finitude. Who see aging in our faces, and opt instead for fillers and fixes to keep flowing the fountain of youth. Who feel the creaks and pops in our joints, and whine that getting old is no joke. Who can only lament when our kids grow, yearning for the younger years and calling time a thief. Who feel the heartstrings of nostalgia pulling us out of the present toward another era we’d prefer. Remember this all will end? Remember that someday you’ll die? Remember that you are dust? “I changed my mind!,” we say and vanish. 

Yet the Christian season of Lent asks us to reconsider. In these weeks that lead us to Easter, we relieve ourselves of the anxieties of that particular rat race we can never outrun. We strip away what gets in the way of the things that matter most. We find communion within the suffering, knowing that all of us will experience heartache. We look to simple reminders – dust, bread, stones, oil, towels and feet, coats and palms, thorns, a cross, and a tomb – to hear again the good news of our redemption. We draw near to God who has been reconciled to us through Jesus.

Perhaps as we do, the energy that prompts us to run away in the face of death will instead give pause. Perhaps we’ll welcome the lessons it will teach us, stilling our bodies and minds and hearts to ponder what wondrous Love is this. Perhaps we’ll return, as Silas did in the Ash Wednesday line a few minutes later, ready now for a smudge and a reminder that though we are dust, God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Together in God’s work of Love,
Pastor Emily