This Ash Wednesday excerpt is taken from Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, & the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (eBook) by Walt Wangerin, Jr.
Dust to Dust
"Remember," the Pastor has said for centuries, always on this day. "Remember," the Pastor has murmured, touching a finger to ash in a dish and smearing the ash on my forehead — "Remember, thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
Ash Wednesday, the day of the personal ashes, the first of the forty days of Lent: Like a deep bell tolling, this word defines the day and starts the season and bids me begin my devotional journey: Memento! "Remember!" ...
It's annoying to find the easy flow of my full life interrupted by the morbid prophecy that it shall end...
But that sounds old in a modern ear, doesn't it? Fusty, irrelevant, and positively medieval! Why should I think about death when all the world cries "Life" and "Live"? The priest of this age urge me toward "positive thinking," "grabbing the gusto," "feeling good about myself." And didn't Jesus himself promise life in abundance? It's annoying to find the easy flow of my full life interrupted by the morbid prophecy that it shall end...
Nevertheless, Memento! Tolls the ageless bell. In spite of my resistance, the day and the season together [say]: "Remember!" ... This is as simple as it gets [says the Lord]: if you do not interrupt your life with convictions of the death to come, then neither shall your death, when it comes, be interrupted by life...
Ancient is this warning of the church... Ancient, likewise, is the season of Lent, when the Christian is encouraged to think of her death and the sin that caused it – to examine herself, to know herself so deeply and well that knowledge becomes confession. But ancient, too, is the consolation such an exercise provides, ancient precisely because it is eternal.
It is this: that when we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die – because his took the place of ours. Ah, children, we will yearn to hear the Gospel story again and again, ever seeing therein our death in his, and rejoicing that we will therefore know a rising like his as well.
Remember now that thou art dust... My death and Jesus' death, by grace conjoined.
Remember now that thou art dust... My death and Jesus' death, by grace conjoined. Memento! – because this death, remembered now, yields life hereafter. And that life is forever.
Ah, dear Jesus! I feel the ashes of mortality upon my heart. Give me, please, the courage to acknowledge them; then give me the faithful sight to see them on your forehead; for you have died the death in my stead, my Redeemer and my Lord! Amen.
- Walt Wangerin, Jr.
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