“…until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” That sounds kind of depressing, doesn’t it? Old style sermon professors used to teach that preachers should start off with a joke but I think I missed that day in preaching 101. When you get right down to it, we’re running around with ashes on our heads or hands. How do we make a joke about that? Who can write a punch line that really carries on Ash Wednesday?
(The remainder, or approximately so, of the sermon text is below)
The thing is, we’ve painted Lent as a deep, dark, depressing time that we’re supposed to walk around all sad with our heads down. Historically we are supposed to deprive ourselves of something we love during Lent. Lent should be annoying. If Lent isn’t an aggravation, you’re not doing it right! Isn’t that how we see it?
The truth is, Lent does have a lot of connection to discipline. Now, discipline can take a couple of meanings. You can look at Lent as I’m in big trouble and I need to get my act together so here’s what I’m going to do to atone for my sins. Fill in the blank with whatever you’re giving up. Chocolate. Soda. Food. Or you can look at it as I want to take on some activity that helps me grow my faith. Daily Bible reading. Daily devotional reading like Water Marks that we’re doing as our Wednesday night series. Whether we give something up or whether we take something on our purpose is to really focus my attention on Christ. Both take discipline or they just end up as a good idea that never happened.
Either way, we get 40 days. Forty days to get our act together, forty days to focus on Christ. Or both. Forty days to get my act together AND focus on Christ. And maybe that is the balance point in our decision to give something up or take something on as a Lenten discipline. Whichever we do, the point should be for us to focus on Christ.
For forty days? Forty days of Lent? Why forty days? I don’t know why forty days is in itself significant but it is all over the Bible. The rain came down on Noah and crew for 40 days, Moses hid in the desert for 40 years, the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years after they escaped Pharoah’s slavery. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert.
Forty days to remember our baptism and what it means to us to be claimed and forgiven by God. Reborn in the waters of baptism as a new creation. A created person born again, day after day after day in the love of God. Did anyone ever ask you if you’ve been born again? The correct response if you’ve been baptized is yes, every day. If you haven’t been baptized and want to chat about baptism let me know. Love to chat about it.
Forty days to remember and reflect on the fact that we come from dust and to dust we shall return. Forty days to repent of the past and to look forward with hope and trembling. With trembling because we fear death and with hope because we look forward to the promise that we have in Christ Jesus that just as he had an Easter moment and left the grave so too will we one day have an Easter moment and leave the grave.
Forty days to Easter. How do we recognize Easter when it comes? What makes Easter something different than any other Sunday, something special, something to celebrate? That’s our purpose in Lent. We intentionally take time to focus our attention on death, on forgiveness, on resurrection, on hope. Putting it another way, we intentionally take time to focus our attention on Christ. That’s what it all comes down to. In the end to dust we shall return but because we have been baptized into a death like Christ’s we are baptized into a resurrection like Christ.
When all is said and done, when all has turned to dust, that is our ultimate hope.