February 10th, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Every year we gather on a nondescript Wednesday in the midst of winter to remind ourselves of the finite nature of these bodies. These beautiful, wonderful bodies…which so often define who we are in the world and what we are capable of doing.
Liturgically, Ash Wednesday is about beginning the 40-day journey of Lent… which prepares us for the Passion of Christ… the mystery of how a shameful crucifixion turns into abundant and triumphant new life in the Resurrection. As we walk this journey, we find that it is a journey that has more to do with letting go than with acquiring things… which is quite the opposite of what the world encourages us to do with this gift we call life.
Instead of striving for power, fame, and unlimited possessions, we consciously die to those desires and, with God’s help, we are released from the sway they may hold over us. This is not simply dying for dying’s sake, but rather for a greater purpose: to create space and make room for the eternal treasures that rust and moth cannot consume… for the eternal life that is born from genuine love of God and neighbor.
The practices of Lent, denying ourselves of this pleasure or avoiding that vice or adding this discipline must have a greater purpose always in mind… to reveal our reliance on God and connect us more closely to God’s creation and creatures.
When the ashes adorn our foreheads, we hear the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
It is a sobering thought…the idea that after all we do and all we accumulate in this lifetime…the end for us all is as it was in the beginning… dust. Anyone who has held the cremated remains of a loved one knows this all too well. Without the breath of life… without God’s Spirit… our fragile frames revert to their material reality. And material reality just is not meant to last. Which is why Ash Wednesday is a time to begin the journey of putting our priorities upon the things that do last.
It is a life long journey, but one that we pay special attention to in these 40 days, so that we might better learn how to put our heart toward treasures that last throughout our entire lives and beyond. Love, Compassion, Communion.
So I ask you this Ash Wednesday in 2016: What do you most value? Upon what treasure or treasures have you set your heart? Jesus is so serious about telling his followers to check out their intentions in secret because it is in those quiet places of communion, when the believer’s heart is alone with the divine, where deep discernment takes place. No one else can tell you if the journey you are taking is one that leads to eternal treasures or fading ones. It’s a conversation that is between you and God.
That doesn’t mean we don’t receive help with the journey… we most certainly do. But so often we can be misled and convinced of the efficacy of fading things by others, and be swayed to believe that we are investing in eternal things when in actuality we are supporting mere superficialities. One need not look further than political campaigns in our current day to know this is true.
Let Jesus be your guide in this season that is about to unfold… spend ample time immersing yourself in scripture… listen to voices that promote eternal treasures rather than transitory ones. For these bodies may be but dust, and to dust they will return, but there is a life beyond death that we are called to find. And we get there in this lifetime by dying to all that goes to dust when the final curtain is closed, and embracing the treasures eternal.
Jesus leads the way into this journey, into this death that leads to life. May we have enough courage, will and love to follow him freely and fully from this day forward.