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February 18th, 2015
This morning my eyes fell on this passage from Paul’s 2nd letter to the church at Corinth
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
He’s invoking the familiar language of tabernacle and temple–the former of Israel’s earlier nomadic days, the latter of her more established days–to speak of that frail temple we are as human flesh. The temple that longs to withstand the vicissitudes and vagaries of ordinary life under the sun. Being as we are, we have only to await the time when we are not. But what we are is not what we shall be. So goes the promise of the Gospel.
Paul’s words came with added poignancy for me on this day as my 92 year old father has reached the point of requiring hospice care. There’s nothing unique about my experience; it’s not even unique within the membership of CtK. So many of us now face the sorrows of caring for aging, declining parents. Those we’ve known for their vigor now lie ravaged.
But for me–and for many of you–today is a different kind of Ash Wednesday. On this day, when the dried, sifted, and burned remains of last year’s Palm-Sunday leaves are mixed with anointing oil into a poultice and swiped upon the head, we are called to remember both that we are but dust, but also that in Christ that dust shall again rise. And in this year’s remembrance there’s an atmosphere of observance more sober, to be sure, but also more true.
There’s no health in fixating on the fact of our death. But neither is there health in our instinctual urge to escort that truth from our minds every time the thought wanders in. With an emblem of death and hope juxtaposed upon our heads we’re being taught to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12). So Ash Wednesday does its small part to prepare us for a good death, which is a sound way to a good life.
This season of Lent, inaugurated today in ash, is too easily sidetracked into talk of what we might give up. Lost in the conversation is its greater concern of what we might take up–what we might return to a place of prominence in our awareness, against which a world of “constant partial attention” most militates.
As those who form patterns so easily–many we’re unaware of, and more we’d prefer to be disentangled from–it’s never a bad thing to venture a new practice. A new pattern that might not seem revolutionary at first, but in the end may mean more than you could’ve expected. What might you take up in order to grapple with more of the fulness of the hope in the Gospel? If you’re looking for suggestions here’s just one: the Biola University Lent Project. It offers daily devotionals, rich in word, image, and song.
We’re in what Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann called the time of “bright sadness,” a phrase poetically rendered from 7th century monk John Climacus’ work, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. (HT: Aaron Taylor) For the next 40 days we face our mortality as Jesus did in His passion and then press into the glory beyond it. As Schmemann said so eloquently (HT: Rod Dreher)
Little by little, we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed “bright,” that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us. It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access – a place where they have no power. All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy. It is not the noisy and the superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched “another world.” And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.
By taking up (possible only through a little giving up) what we’ve kept at the margins we may well (and soberly) discover how much we’ve invested in what will pass so quickly.
You are but dust. But in Him is your life without end. May our path to Resurrection Sunday find the bright sadness that can face what we cannot change, but which promises what we would not trade.
Our Lent begins with imagining the tenor behind the text, with help from our friends of the Biblical Performance Troupe. This Sunday night, 6-8p at FBC. Click here for details and plan to bring a finger food.
When you pray, remember to pray for
Fairmeadows Baptist Church’s pastor Dee Carlile who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer
- our respective journeys through the season of Lent–that we might learn to decrease so that He might increase
- Margaret Doria, Karla Pollock, Liesl Raikes, and Hanna Rice as they travel to Atlanta for the PCA conference on women’s ministry (to which we alluded a few weeks back)
- for our search for a new venue now underway with the help of a realtor