I write this a few days before Ash Wednesday. My mind and soul longs for the meaning of the coming evening worship service.
Since I was a kid, I have memories of being marked on my forehead with the sign of the cross using ashes. Sitting in my seat, I would watch others turn from the altar with crosses on their forehead. The crosses all looked similar but different. Some were dark. Some of the crosses were large and other small. Some looked funny and more like a smudged up X. It reminded me that we are all God’s children, yet have distinctions.
We are the same, but different. In unity, we all get marked, but we come away with a celebrated diversity through our uniqueness.
Every year when I see this parade of people being marked with the cross, the most powerful thought is that we are made of dust and to dust we shall return. Our lives here on this earth are so short. Our lives are precious. We live in a world that tries to elude death, but being reminded at a young age that we are mortal and our days are numbered gives meaning to life.
It helps to live with a purpose. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a journey. A spiritual journey with a purpose. I invite you to participate with a church in the months ahead.
As a pastor I am privileged to be invited into people’s sacred spaces in life. Some of those times are when people are facing death. Hearing people’s stories on their death beds and during near death experiences have given me a deeper appreciation for life.
Facing death experiences, life takes on new meaning. Live each day to the fullest. Celebrate the journey of life with a purpose.
I am a supporter of veterans. Not that I enjoy war and the pain it brings to all sides, but more because war veterans live with a different perspective on life. I probably got interested in veterans as a kid because I never met some of my family because they died during WW2.
Since those early years in my life, veterans that have seen combat have impressed something on me. Many almost have a guilt that they survived while some of their friends did not. Soldier’s stories reveal a truth about death and life.
Maybe death should not be such a off-limits subject in our real conversations as a people. When we shelter our true selves from facing the reality of death, maybe we shelter ourselves from reflecting on the great value of life.
I am so glad that at a young age, I began to experience the reality of our mortality. As parents or adults, it might be beneficial for us to talk to our children about mortality. Open conversations about real life issues are important.
I now have a daughter and have begun to talk to her about some of these topics. I will never forget her tears and her prayer as she laid her hands on her great grandmother during an open casket viewing. That little girl walked away with a lesson on life. Maybe living in a society that tries to avoid death at all costs is a society living a lie.
In the months of the church’s Lenten season, we have an opportunity to engage in greater thoughts around this subject. Unique traditions of prayer, giving to the poor, meditation, and fasting happen in church communities during Lent.
The spiritual journey all starts on Ash Wednesday where people come forward and are marked with a sign of a cross on their foreheads using ashes from burned palm branches. The palm branches connect back to the previous year’s Palm Sunday. This tradition serves as a sign of our human frailty and mortality. It sought of presents a cycle of life- a spiritual life. It invites worshippers into a season of spiritual renewal.
While the sign of the cross with ashes gives the first impression of a morbid reality, it invites people to live every day with hope. Each day is a new day to live.
As we live we can be in prayer, remembrance, and made one with those that have gone before us. Though they are no longer alive in the flesh, these loved one’s we remember are a part of who we are.
As we live each day, we live out their legacy. When we face the reality of our death, we live. We really find the deep meaning of life. We really live. The cycle of life connects us to the before people and after people of our short lives.
The season of Lent lasts for 40 days and then ends at the cross. On Easter, the cross and death are turned to victory. As we journey with our unique crosses this Lenten season, may we all be faced with the cross.
May the young and old learn of the value of life. May we journey with an awareness that someday we will be the people alive today who pass on a legacy to the next generation.
Each generation has the responsibility to pass the baton of life and faith on to the next. By helping the next generation serve others, as Jesus has served us, we are showing them that although there is great hardship, pain, and even death in the world, their contribution is important.
You are teaching them that they have unique value and they can add value to others. They are needed. Their unique cross is needed. Your unique cross matters. All people, in all their uniqueness, matter to God. For that reason, the cross turns into a crown.
-Dr. David M. Marz, pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Phoenix,and be reached at Pastordavid@sov.us.