This is the first of the church seasons, the oldest stretch of days meant to mark time toward a festival promise.
Some would rather avoid the solemn and thoughtful waiting of Lent, would rather keep spinning toward Happy Easter and sightings of spring still several weeks away. And some swim out way too far, past the breakers, where the tides of remembering and repenting and reflecting turn into dangerous currents like self-loathing and cruel piety and wallowing, things that can sweep you away or pull you all the way under.
Tonight we gather to sing and speak and pray about our own mortality.
We are alive – with all it’s joys and perils. And we will die – like everything else that begins and ends. We take an hour to get honest about the fact that God is God and we are not. We remember that, for all of our human progress and good intentions and flashes of invincibility and denial of science or scripture, we are dust.
This word is not meant to cause shame or despair. It is neither good news or bad news. It’s just news. Or, perhaps, it is both.
When did we decide to take death so personally, as a punishment God might inflict on creation and relish? How come we avoid the only given in this life, that it will end, with our loved ones, our caregivers, our friends, and most trusted communities? Why are we so eager to deny death, to dull it’s inevitability with just about anything else?
Remember when Jesus tells the disciples he will suffer and die? Five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
The story of Adam, the Earth Creature. You are created and connected. And this is very good.
But very good not does mean perfect. Or forever. It is a gift pulled down from heaven. Here. Now. Time and space are bending for this miracle,
this Big Bang of matter still expanding what’s alive and possible. We struggle to see it as such. We always have.
What if, all this time we spend trying to cheat death and avoid sorrow could be harnessed for something else. Death befriended. Fear released. Life unchained from the ancient pitfalls of our own undoing? What if, all this concern for our own legacy and longevity was no longer ours to lug around?
What if it fell away from these bodies like scales, like dust that returns to the earth, like a forest canopy burned open so the ferns and undergrowth can rise toward the light? What if this is the season we’ve been waiting for all along, because these songs and prayers and stories tell the truth about who we are and whose we are?
What if these 40 days are meant for blessing the ordinary and honoring the tiny things that make this life hard and good and broken and beautiful? What if there are no words to fix or explain what feels urgent or unjust about death, only a Savior who says, “I know. I really know. Come with me and live”?
Friends, we are dust and we are stars. We are mere mortals and we are loved with infinite power. We are dying and somehow, even in the dying, there is an abundance of life.
This is the journey. This is the call toward the table and the cross and the tomb. This is the news that is neither good nor bad. Or, perhaps, it is both.
“If you are uncomfortable – in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused – you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you’re doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you much change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.” –Glennon Doyle (Untamed)