Last Wednesday night, I had the distinct honor of sitting with our dear Lenwood Ammons for a final visit. Lenwood, you see, had received a clear word from his doctor that he was nearing the end of life. His almost-102 year-old body had reached its limits, and soon he would make the final journey Home. His mind completely lucid and his spark of life undeniably urgent, he and I shared laughter and tears as we reflected on the long arc of his life.
He lovingly welcomed my questions: What has been the greatest delight and the deepest heartache of your life? Are you afraid of death? What life wish would you have for our church? What final word might you offer to us?
And with the gift of wisdom seasoned with years and experience, grace spilled forth. Memories flowed freely — of Doris and the war, friendship with Randall and Tom and his love of his family, moments at the gas station and an overwhelming joy for our church and its children. I’m not afraid, because God has never left me – not one day of my life. I have been so loved; how did I get so lucky?, he said, God’s fierce love and presence among us and in him surrounding every word. It was a conversation I’ll hold close for all the remaining days of my life, and one that stirs me as we near Ash Wednesday this week.
You know Ash Wednesday to be the day marking the beginning of Lent, that 40-day season of preparation, repentance, reflection as we draw near with Jesus to the cross and the tomb. On that day, we gather in worship to have ashes smudged on our brows and bread and cup fill our bellies. The smell of incense will tickle our noses, and our eyes will find visual reminders of the starkness of Lent’s contours. Haunting melodies will echo in our ears, and the stirring of memory, of life and death, of what has been and what is not yet will settle into our minds for the days to come. Ash Wednesday — like Lent especially, but like the whole life of faith — is bodily, tangible, earthy — an unapologetic reminder of the dust from which we came and the dust to which we shall return someday.
This year, Lent at First on Fifth will use the phrase “this is my body” to guide our Lenten expressions of worship and study. “This is my body,” was, of course, the words Jesus offered on that night he was betrayed when he gathered around the table with his friends with bread in hand. But “this is my body” became, too, his message of self in those last weeks of life — of deprivation in the wilderness, of anger in the temple, of anointing and riding and beating and walking and suffering and dying, of healing and seeing and saving the eyes opened, thirst quenched, death unbound, and new life reimagined. For Jesus knew what we know: our bodies will one day return to dust, but through his body, we all are made whole.
Lenwood knew that too, and my deep hope, this season and in all the changing seasons of your life, is that you know it still — that God has never left you and will never indeed, that you are so very loved, that when you’ll soon remember that you are dust, remember more who and whose you are.
Together in God’s work of Love,