On Monday morning, the first news I heard on the radio was that Pope Benedict had announced his resignation. Now admittedly, as someone employed in the “work” of religion and having taken a church history class somewhere in the last four years, I pay more attention to some of these stories than the average person.But there was something about the historic nature of this man choosing to step down from this globally powerful post that caught my attention. It’s been nearly 600 years since that was done by someone else.
Why was this his choice?
One part of me scoffed a bit – he’s wimping out.
He’s leaving a lifelong post.
God’s not going to be too happy with that.
But then came this awareness…
He knows what he is called to do, and he’s done with this call and moving on to the next thing…whatever that may be.
He’s faithfully walking ahead.
He knows his limits.
He’s making a choice about how he approaches his own finiteness.
He knows there is transformation as old things pass away.
From dust he has come and to dust he shall return…
Here’s a man who is looking at his dustiness and moving toward it, admitting a limit, ending a call, moving toward a new call and eventually a new creation.
Journeying forward with intention.
And in that moment, my own journey through Lent was framed.
How am I called to live, knowing that I am beloved by God AND finite?
I will return to dust. And new life comes from things that die.
I want to invite you to join me on the journey.
Ash Wednesday is the gateway to the season of Lent.
Depending on our life’s journey, we have varied understanding of this somber season.
We begin by marking ourselves with Ashes, being reminded that we have come from dust, and to dust we will return.
We confess our sins and seek to make our lives better for God.
For 40 days, we walk through the last days of Christ’s ministry on earth toward Jerusalem.
We drape the cross and strip the altar on Maundy Thursday,
toll the bell and recount the last moments on Good Friday
and on Holy Saturday, we wait.
Throughout these Lenten days we watch and wait
with the crowds that greeted Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem,
with the disciples in the Upper Room as Jesus breaks bread and passes wine,
with Jesus himself in the garden praying for suffering to pass,
with Pontius Pilate and with Herod as they hear the complaints leveled against Jesus and bat him back and forth like a political hot potato.
We wait with the Roman guard and with Mary and Mary and John.
We wait with Peter – one crow, two crows, three crows.
We approach the end of Jesus’ earthly life knowing what happens.
We know that Christ dies. We know is that Easter is coming
…that transformation occurs.
That life from death is possible.
So what are we doing right now at this gateway, on Ash Wednesday?
Why are we remembering our very dustiness? And by sharing this evening together, remembering one another’s dustiness?
Historically, we are called to confess our sins during this time, to repent, which means to turn away from sin and dedicate ourselves to being better.
Sin is anything that separates us from God and from loving others.
Remember that the greatest commandment is to Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Therefore the greatest sin is to fail to do those things.
We fall so short sometimes.
And repentence requires drawing nearer to God.
In the next 40 days, we have the opportunity to intentionally start walking ahead on our journey with God, quite literally toward our death, because we are - after all – mortal – with the knowledge that we are God’s. Building a relationship along the way.
In that time,
we have the chance to remake ourselves into the persons we are called to be.
We have the opportunity to be God’s and not the worlds.
To let our dust be real, to not run from our dustiness.
To see that others are also dusty
...and dustiness has its place.
Knowing that we can, in our dustiness, be transformed.
Knowing that new life comes from death.
There are things we may want to prune away –
habits, preconceived notions, judgments…
rather than letting them become part of our dustiness.
There may be new things we want to take on –
new awareness, new practice, new light for our path.
We have this special time to listen very closely for the things we are called to do;
we also need to listen very closely to hear what it is that we are NOT called to do.
We can use these days to examine whether or not we are being all that God has created us to be…and nothing more or less.
And we’ll likely walk this path again in another year.
What grace to get to do it more than once…a little dustier each time.
Each time with the promise of new life through the journey.
Return to the Lord your God for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive…
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.