From Death Into Life
Jesus called the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
I've seen a lot of death and dying in the past year. As a pastor, of course, I've taken part in my share of funerals. Accompanying a family through their grief is a great honor that all of us clergy folks do not take lightly. But I've brushed with death in many ways this year that have nothing to do with my vocation as a pastor – but they have everything to do with my life as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Late last April, my friend and mentor, Pastor Larry Meyer of the
Yet here we are, preparing for Ash Wednesday, when I'll stand in front of our congregation and mark the foreheads of each worshiper with the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday palm branches. I'll tell these people I dearly love to "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I will ask them to consider their own death as they consider the life of Jesus our Savior and His journey toward His own death. These are not easy things to discuss.
But discuss them we must, for the alternative is worse by far. Jesus tells us that we cannot save our lives, no matter how hard we try. Denying death, as much of our culture seems determined to do, only creates a kind of false life, one focused on the denial of age, focused on the centrality of the self, focused on the 'purchase of happiness' regardless of the cost to self and neighbor. Newsweek has been running a series of articles on the baby boomer generation, and frankly I've never seen a more selfish, arrogant, delusional group of people than those who insist that they can have exactly the kind of life they want at no cost to themselves or those they love. This kind of life is false, it is dangerous, and it is precisely what Jesus is attacking when He says that 'those who want to save their life will lose it.'
As we begin our Lenten journey, consider what it means to admit that you are a dying creature, drawing nearer even at this moment to the end of this life. As you go forward to receive the mark of ashes on your forehead tomorrow, God will call you into repentance for your sins, and God will promise you the forgiveness that is real life. We who are dying are given new life here and now through our Savior's invitation to follow Him. As you remember that you are dust, remember also that God is breathing new life into that dust through our Lord Jesus Christ, that in Him and Him alone we move from death into life.