It is a big week in the life of the Christian church. Wednesday – March 1 – was Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of Lent, the march towards Easter and our celebration of a risen God.
In “Ashes to Ashes: A Journey that Always Ends at the Same Place” I described the 6-week season of Lent as time of prayer, repentance, reflection and self denial. Through this seemingly sorrowful season in the church year, I concluded with a reminder of the joy we experience through heightened awareness of God’s unlimited grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.
On this year’s Ash Wednesday, I awoke early in the morning to a quiet house to read, study and pray – time which has been severly lacking and desperately missed during the last two months. After only a few days with the capacity to set aside meaningful time for reflection and study, I feel renewed peace in knowing who – and whose – I am!
On this first day of Lent, I spent time with Psalm 113:
Verse 1: “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!”
The Hebrew translation uses both the word ‘Praise’ and ‘Lord’ 3 separate times in this one verse. Is it appropriate to study such words on the first day of a church season where we do not use the word “Alleluia” in our worship service?!
Verse 7: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…”
I did not read this particular Psalm as part of a Lenten study, but it was good to reflect upon this verse on Ash Wednesday! On this day in the church year, ash is placed on our forehead in the sign of a cross, and we are told “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Through Psalm 113, we praise a God who raises the poor and needy from the dust. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are all dust, in need of a Savior to lift us out of the ash heap. This “us” is not the physical human body, but our spiritual inner being.
I will begin a new online Seminary for Everyone course tomorrow – Faith and Money: Breaking the Taboo. This past week I’ve been working through our introductory text – Sharing Possessions, What Faith Demands (by Luke Timothy Johnson). The second chapter focused on our human bodies. The author declared that serious thought about possessions must start with consideration of how the human body is the medium to express the spirit and its meaning to the world. We rarely sit back and think about it, but we view our body both as a thing we possess and the thing that we are. “The body expresses who I am, and the body is who I am.” It is my hand, my leg – as if those things are possessions. Yet a gesture from the hand which is attached to my body becomes an expression of who I am.
I was caught off guard to begin a course on possessions with abstract and perplexing analysis of the human body. But again, how perfect to reflect upon this alongside Ash Wednesday! On this day, we are reminded of the certainty of death – these human bodies will fail us and the body will return to dust. The body, the most basic and perhaps the first internalized human possession, will be taken from us!
Yet still we praise; we praise because we know that while our humanness will end, hope remains because we have God for eternity! We do not know what God’s eternal presence will look like without these human bodies we cling to. So it is easy to allow our fear of losing this body as a possession become spiritually debilitating. But scripture – like Psalm 113 – reminds us to continually praise! We live in hope – knowing God has promised to raise each of us from the dust!