“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return” These words will be spoken over those gathered for Ash Wednesday worship next Wednesday March 6th. And as Ash Wednesday approaches, It seems that I am more aware of my mortality than ever before because of the many losses that occurred in 2018. Their names still echo in my heart and soul; Ben, Ralph, Aaron, Rachel, Stephanie, Jim, and Grandpa Wilbert.
The anniversary of the first death is quickly approaching. On Monday March 4th, it will be a year since God called Benjamin J. Ahles-Iverson home to be with him. It was the day Mara lost her beloved husband. It was the day Elizabeth lost her dad. It was the day Christine and Valerian lost their son and Phoebe and Aaron lost their brother. It was the day that I and many others lost our friend. 365 days have passed yet here are still days it seems so fresh like time has stood still.
Yet the truth is time hasn’t stood still. The minutes, hours and days have continued to tick by without this beloved child of God/our friend by our side. Birthday candles have been blown out without him. Presents have been opened without him. Birthday candles have been blown out without all of them. Presents have been opened without all of them. Anniversaries have been celebrated wishing the one we love was still here on earth by our side.
The truth is that 2018 has been one of the longest Lenten weary roads that I have ever traveled. The dust is still fresh on my face. And there have been so many times I have wanted to just sit on the side of the road. However, God has surrounded me, has surrounded all of us with community that walks this Lenten weary road together. As I find myself climbing back up to the empty tomb, I am reminded that life not death has the final word. “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.” (Clarence W. Hall)
It won’t stay there because God loved us so much, God sent God’s son into the world for all of us (See John 3:16-17) Jesus died on the cross for each and every one of us. And then on the third day, God raised Jesus from the grave proclaiming that life not death has the ultimate word. I know that in the midst of loss and grief and death it can feel like death is paralyzing us. There are so many times we find ourselves searching for breath. Yet in the midst of loss, if we let it, there is beauty and life that finds its way back to the surface.
This Lent, I am more than ready to find myself at the empty tomb. Yet I know that I cannot experience the joy of Easter Sunday without first experiencing the pain of Good Friday. I don’t always want to experience that pain. In fact, most days I would much rather not feel that pain. Yet by feeling this pain, I know that I have lived and loved. “Grief is the last act of love that we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”
This Lent, I come with the image of so many friends and colleagues gathered around Ben’s urn on that March day in Taylor Wisconsin as we commended our friend/spouse/child/brother/father to God’s care. That image is forever implanted on my heart and mind as a visual reminder of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and who will come after us. The cloud of witnesses who will continue to share the story of faith that Ben and so many we lost this year believe wholeheartedly in.
Lent is a time for us to reflect and remember; to trust in the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. I am reminded of the story Bryant shared after Ben’s funeral, about driving home, and their kids belting out the words to the song “Come Back Home” from the Greatest Showman soundtrack. Ben has been called home and we will eventually be called home too. God gave Ben and all those we lost this year to us to know and to love until the time when they were called back home.
So during this season of Lent, I walk this weary Lenten weary road knowing that there will be obstacles placed along the way. The dust will cake itself into the cracks and crevices as I journey the road. There will be times when I will just have to sit in the grief. And there will also be other times when disciples will show up and walk with me. Eventually I too will come to the tomb to find it empty. In seeing that empty tomb, I can proclaim without a doubt that death will not stay in the grave. Crying and pain will eventually be wiped away. I realize that there are so many days when this doesn’t seem possible especially when the tears are still wet upon our faces and the pain of loss is still so fresh. Yet God promises that life not death will always have the final word.
So on Ash Wednesday, as I leave with an ashen cross on my forehead, I will walk forth knowing that all of us are only given so much time on this earth. Yet God calls us to love and be loved until the day when we too are called to sit at the heavenly banquet feast with him. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary and Tell His Story, Kristin and Porch Stories, and Sue and Let’s Have Coffee!