This morning I attended my second ever Ash Wednesday service. As I sat under the teaching of a dear friend, he beckoned us to take today and this lent season to shift our gaze to death, to ashes, to longing. For in this reflection, we recognize our desperate need of life, of growth, of fulfillment. Of Christ.
I slowly made my way forward to feel the ashen cross (a bittersweet symbol of an incarnate God who entered our death-bound world), to hear the words “remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”
As I waited, my heart weighed heavy. I realized that despite my attempts at intentional grief this year, I’d chosen instead to intentionally turn my gaze away. Instead of facing loss, I’ve spent 10 months trying to return. Return, to a time when death was an idea, not a tangible reality. Return to a time when I knew of death, but had never heard a last breath drawn. Return to a time when I knew that we would all one day pass, but had never seen the life vanish from eyes as a man turned into a corpse. And i’m sorry if this seems graphic, but I saw it. I saw death. I can now see the thestrals. And I hate it.
So as I sat this morning and I was encouraged to look at it, look at death, my skin crawled. I didn’t want to. I don’t like it.
But my friend was right. It is important that we look at it. Look at the mess! Look at the pain! Look at the brokenness! Look at the loss! Look at the depravity! Look at the death. For when we look at death, we can become aware of it’s defeater. Christ conquered death. But if I refuse to look at death. I miss it. I miss the great lengths our Lord traversed to conquer it.
So I’ve decided to look. From now until Good Friday I will look at death.
It’s only day one and I’ve already cried and raged against death. It took my dad. It took him from me and I had to see it at work firsthand. And as lent carries on I will continue to face it. And I know that as my longing grows, my craving for resurrection, so will grow my joy. Christ faced this wretched ash, but he defeated it. And though for now I have to face the pain and longing of loss, I know that one day I will stand face to face with my rescuer. And I will see my dad with life in his eyes, in his skin, in his smile.
But today I will look at the ashes. Today I will let the pain grow into gratitude. Today I will look at death.