Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist context, I never heard of Lent. I had no idea the Christian Church had “seasons” or its own calendar. That was unfortunate. Discovering this in my college years came as a great surprise and a benefit to me ever since. For it became apparent to me that my navigation of this world and my life would be –if not easier then–more meaningful simply because I could comprehend my life as developmental, evolutionary which is to say, an unfolding mystery and journey.
The Lenten season begins this Ash Wednesday and marks the formal beginning of the season of Lent and that season is one of reflection, examination of our consciences and souls and repentance. We do this especially as we recall the testing of our Lord in the wilderness, just after his baptism. I sometimes get myself down to an Episcopalian church to have the sign of the cross made on my forehead with ashes. Baptists do not hand out ashes or participate (as a rule anyway) in this ritual act. I can tell you from my own experience, it is a powerful moment to have a priest rub those ashes onto your forehead as she says those solemn words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Whether or not you participate in such a rite, the truth of those words should stir us to a season of contemplation and repentance.
Ashes as a sign of sorrow have been with us for a long time. In the ancient book of Job, we find that the stricken man “sat among the ashes.” This was a sign of grief and sorrow.
Leon Wieseltier in is book, Kaddish, wrote in his book about rending one’s clothes as a sign of grief. He pointed out that the mourner who rends thus gestures outwardly what has in fact takenplace inwardly. “This act of violence,” Wieseltier writes, “dignifies the external truth and the internal truth of what has happened.” So with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads: it is an outward sign of an inner sorrow and grief: for our participation in the ruin of the world, for our grief for life that is short and brief, and a declaration that we will live more faithfully and justly in the days to come. As the Book of Common Prayer declares:
We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.
In my book of sermons, Sermons in War, there is a sermon that was preached as the third in a sequence of sermons immediately following 9/11 entitled, “God’s Savage Country.” By that I meant there were true believers and fundamentalist zealots in any number of religions who feel it their duty to maim, kill and destroy. I suggested we as Christians should be led by another vision, the mercy and peace of our Lord.
As we pause this coming holiday week-end to remember those who have served and fallen in military service to the United States, let us ponder some words I preached September 30, 2001.
Beloved, there is another country that has no borders. You will not find it on any map traced in lines or crossed by coordinates of longitude and latitude. It is the kingdom of love and light, mercy and kindness, generosity and benevolence. It is a country that exists in the meadows of the heart, filled with light and the fragrance of a loving God. Its citizens span the earth and include people from every nation, tribe and clan. Those who dwell there seek nothing less than the healing of creation, the redemption of humanity from its battles and wars with the flesh and the peaceful co-existence of all God’s creation. This country is the peaceable kingdom of God. May God’s kingdom of peace and justice overcome hatred and the darkness of this hour in which we find ourselves. May his love rule in our hearts now and always.
We salute all who have served in the Armed Forces. We pray for the peacemakers and noble opposition who by conscience could not participate in war. And we pray for a day when nations will be led by persons committed above all to the security and peace of their citizenry, seeking dialogue and mutual benefit prior to waging war. ~See you Sunday
Monday is another day of snow. The appearance of flakes, the shortening of vision, the powder piled on the sidewalk and great machines tripping and panting along the streets, rendered suddenly powerless by water, snow and ice. It is a good day to remain in doors and ransack the poets.
Tend to your soul. Turn off the meteorologists. They predict and frighten. Tend to your mind. Find one wonderful sentence crafted by a poet that can lead you to heaven’s gate at Jerusalem’s wall (that’s William Blake). Mind you, you could read a novel of two hundred pages or get started but poetry is sonic zen expansiveness. One single line can open a world. Here’s a line I found while ransacking poets today. It is by Franz Wright and his book, Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, in a poem entitled, “My Place.”
I believe one day the distance between myself and God will disappear.
Through every entrance of any beautiful garden I have ever visited; beside retinues of trees aligned in an array of stippled, green, pinpoints of color; standing on the borderland of shoreline that separates sea and sky and earth while at the same time acting as a seam that sews them as one fabric called the universe; engraved within a ring worn as an emblem of life…I have always heard these words resounding as a chorus, the coruscating high descant, the rose adorned emblem engraved onto the wooden gate :
Begin and end there. Let it be the incantatory response of your life, for life. See you Sunday~ Thanks be to God.
Sunday September 20th is Koinonia Lunch after worship. We take this word from the Greek New Testament for fellowship and actualize it each month on the third Sunday. A time of food and fellowship, we enjoy deepening the bonds of friendship and love between us. Pastor Bledsoe’s sermon for the day is entitled, “Never Was Christ Without Water.”
You know the summer is over, a new season is upon us and you know it’s good to be in the house of the Lord. Let’s worship together.
~See you Sunday