“Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, ‘Why do people die?’ and ‘Why is this happening to me?’ Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.” ~ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Fear is a very immobilizing reality. It can cripple people and keep them from moving on in their lives. Perhaps that is some of the wisdom and reason for Ash Wednesday. How much more of a death reminder can we get than to have ashes placed on our foreheads as we hear, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” There is no turning back from that reminder. Some would also say, “There is no hope. Death is the ultimate reality. We might as well just give up.”
That is not the reason for Ash Wednesday. Death is far from the ultimate reality. We have ashes placed on our heads to remind us that our bodies are corruptible and mortal. Our souls, on the other hand, are eternal. Jesus Christ won the victory over sin and death and, in His resurrection, restored the possibility and hope of resurrection to us all. As Ash Wednesday — and the Lenten season — anticipates Easter, this is very much a season of hope and not a season of dread and hopelessness.
In order for us to appreciate the gift of life won for us by Jesus Christ, we have to accept death. Death must be seen as a welcome friend that opens the door to a new and everlasting life. The problem with death is that it often tugs at our heartstrings, at our human self. We are soul and body, each and every one of us. Sometimes, our human nature overwhelms us. Being steeped in things that come to us via our senses, our soul can be outweighed by our emotions.
Losing someone we love to death is hard. We do not want to accept their loss. Death appears as an enemy to us. We become angry as loved ones are claimed by death. We can even become frightened about our own impending deaths. Death can only be frightening if we take our eyes off of the Lord. Without faith and trust in God, death can appear to be the ultimate end. With faith and trust in God, death is nothing.
Enter the season with peace and hope in your heart. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. On that glorious day, you shall shine like the firmament when God calls you to Himself.
FAITH ACTION: Pray for those who are too frightened about their own upcoming death and therefore never truly live.
Remember, Ash Wednesday is a Day of Fast and Abstinence