We are all dying. Every single one of us. There is not one exception in this room. Physically, we know this to be true. My bald head is a sign of the progress of death. Hair follicles, quitting, stopping to do what they were meant to do. My troublesome ankle that is keeping me from running is a sign of the march to old age that I can’t stop. Even my eyes are dying. They worked so well 14 years ago, and now I can barely lead worship without blowing up the words into a cartoonish 18 font.
We are all dying, and surrounded by death. People are dead to me, simply because I decided I didn’t need that person to live. The poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the stupid, the politically opposed, the socially bothersome, dead to me. Life is too short for me to waste it with idiots. Those who have wronged me, embarrassed me, called me on my stuff, not realized that I was right and they were wrong, dead to me. They are getting what they deserve in my stone cold silence. My own ability to love is dying too, as I grieve people that I have lost and then left me, or felt the cruel sting of rejection, or trusted someone untrustworthy which turns out to be most people.
We are dying and death surrounds us. Death is ugly. My death is ugly. Just talking about it out loud makes me ashamed.
In the season of Lent, we are given the courage to be honest about our death. The ash on your forehead is a symbol of the death that surrounds us. God made us from the ash of the earth. Ash is the destiny of each of our bodies. And ashes is what our sinfulness, selfishness, callousness of others, does to our life together. In Lent we embrace our death, physically and emotionally with this ash.
We do so trusting the promise of the cross. The ash I put on your forehead I put in the shape of the cross. This cross speaks to the hope of something beyond our death. Just as passionately as we embrace death, our God wants life for us. This cross gives us courage to be honest with ourselves in confession, embracing our love of death, because we know that life is only found after we confront death. The cross says yes you are dying, but that is the first step to be born again.
Unless, we die to the fear of our own physical death, death holds us. Unless we die to our mistrust of our neighbor, death holds us. Unless we die to our insufferable, blowhard self righteousness, death holds us. Unless we die to our thirst for vengeful justice, death holds us.
The cross releases the grip that death has on our lives. The cross says yes to the no of our last breath. The cross says yes to our no to our cranky untrustworthy neighbor, who we discover is loved by God just as much as our cranky untrustworthy selves. The cross says yes to our no of vengeful punishment. In the cross, we discover God forgives. We won’t receive the vengeful punishment that we deserve, and neither will our neighbor who we were hoping would get theres.
Acknowledging that we are dying is the first step to finding life. Move through Lent this year, focusing on what needs to die for you to live. Acknowledge your brokenness with the ash on your forehead. Trust God’s yes to all of our shouts of no as we clutch and hold on to death. Jesus heard those shouts on the cross and still said yes.
We confess our sins publicly as a way of saying we are ash, and acknowledge we are dying. We have the courage to confess because of the promise of the life claimed for us on the cross.
Confess with me won’t you. If you are able please kneel for our confession.