“It is appointed once for a person to die. After this the judgment.” -Hebrews 9:27
“But this is the hour—when darkness reigns.” -Jesus
I don’t know if you saw this story last year, and if not, I’m sorry to do this to you. Because you can’t unknow this. Last year, Bart Jansen woke up to find his long-time pet cat “Wilbur” was dead. And that was unacceptable for Mr. Jansen. So he did what anyone of us would have done. He turned his dead pet into a helicopter.
He combined the fine art of taxidermy and small engine motors. And now Wilbur had been given wings…
As a preacher, I’ve done a lot of funerals and one of the things that I’ve noticed is how uncomfortable most people are during these times. I think it’s the same reason Bart put wings on his dead cat, or why the taxidermy industry exists at all. We don’t like to be reminded of death, and funerals are the reminder of the ultimate reality that we can’t escape.
And this is precisely why we need moments like Ash Wednesday.
Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound a bit too Catholic. And I get that. Growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect.
My parents wouldn’t even let me be friends with girls named Mary.
But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years It’s when we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return. It is profoundly ancient and biblical.
Think about Job for a second. Do you remember what Job does when he hears the news about his family tragically dying? He covers himself in ashes.
We are all Job
In his famous sermon on the book of Job, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that all of our stories will one day be like Job’s. Sure Job lost everything in one day while most of us experience these losses more slowly. But rest assured one day each of us will be on the door of death, leaving everything behind.
James Stockdale was a war-hero and POW during the Vietnam war. He had lived through the underbelly of the human condition and wound up becoming an admiral, and eventually ran with Ross Perot for the Vice-President. When they asked him about the other POW’s who didn’t survive he always said the same thing:
“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter’ And then Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas again. One by one, they died of a broken heart.”
I understand why we want to ignore death, why we pretend it’s something that just happens to other people. But there is a reason that the church has practiced Ash Wednesday for so long. Because eventually optimism is really hard to keep someone’s faith going.Continue Reading...