On Ash Wednesday this year I went to a service in Holywell which included the ‘imposition of ashes’. This is where the priest or minister makes the sign of the cross on ones forehead with the words ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. It is a stark reminder of our mortality, and coming as it does from Genesis 3 v19, of the fallenness of humankind in the face of God and of our need to repent.
Talking about death is not something we like to do very often. Thinking about our own death even less so. This was not the case however when a few weeks ago a group of people from across the Synod met for a 24-hour gathering entitled ‘Good Grief’. The main purpose of this short conference was to equip people (mostly lay people but with one or two exceptions) to prepare and lead funeral services. Part of the programme included time to consider our own deaths and our own funerals. Admittedly not the cheeriest of subjects for a Friday evening, but it turned out to be an incredibly helpful exercise and fascinating to hear what other people thought too. Interestingly, it wasn’t half as morbid a task as it might at first have sounded and in some ways, it felt as if the taboo of talking about death had been broken. If nothing else, it brought home the importance of letting loved ones know what your final wishes might be and not to think you are tempting fate by discussing them.
Going back to those Ash Wednesday words – and whilst I appreciate their meaning and context at the beginning of Lent, a season of self-examination and penitence, I cannot help but hope that there is more to us than just dust and ashes. Our lives have meaning and purpose, and whilst there is only one certainty in life, our lives are more than just the sum of our days. Being alive is an incredible miracle for which we give thanks to God! Lent encourages us to take the opportunity to think about our lives and how we live them and to consider the things that we do that enrich the lives of others as we walk the way of Jesus.
Lent is also the time of preparation for remembering the death of Jesus, the event that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Yet in the death of Jesus we find not emptiness or futility but hope. For we know that the power of death was overcome when, on the third day, God raised this Man of Dust to life. And so even in the midst of life we need not fear death. The cross of ash reminds us of our mortality but it also reminds us of the hope we have been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And so we can say with St Peter:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
With Easter blessings. David