Gathered Into Glory

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”

The above sobering words are central to the Lenten liturgy that I, and many other Christians throughout world, heard yesterday as we came forward, at our respective services, for the imposition of ashes, a rite where believers receive the mark of the Cross on their foreheads. This mark was made using the ashes of burnt palm branches, which were used the previous year in celebration of Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Knowing this added poignancy, for Palm Sunday is closely followed by Good Friday, the event of Jesus’ crucifixion, an event that transpired at the hands of those who just a few days previous celebrated him as the Messiah. This is poignant because in some manner my involvement in Lent, and particularly Ash Wednesday, implicates me in Jesus’ death, just as if I was among those who turned on him during his last week in Jerusalem. In short, the sign of the cross on my forehead is like blood on the hands of a murderer. This sign is a mark of the very reason why I deserve to return to dust.

The thing is, though all I have written above is true and somber, Lent is not ultimately about guilt and death. Instead, it is a season of preparation to enable one to enter more fully into the life of God. Sure this season is justly somber, as this time of preparation is animated by repentance and fasting, which are two practices that do not evoke positivity and joy. I think, however, that the negative connotations associated with these practices are largely due to a misunderstanding. Often when people think of repentance and fasting, they think of giving up something desirable to please or, worse yet, appease God, but the Gospel has another word to say about this matter. In short, it tells us there is nothing we must, or more importantly, can do to please God, as he fully accepts us on the basis of what he has already done through Jesus Christ. So then, why this season of repentance and fasting? Simply put, God has much to freely give us, and more than that, he wants to give us more of himself, but we cannot receive what he offers when our hearts are full, no matter how free it might be. In this manner, repentance is merely letting go of something to be able to receive something better, deeper, and more satisfying.

According to Christian conviction, in this age between the ages, believers still struggle with the reality of sin, a struggle that takes place within our hearts. In its essence this struggle has to do with deep longings for connection, worth, meaning, and ultimately joy. We struggle because the world readily offers many resources to meet these longings, and to some degree, what the world offers provides satisfaction, but it is not a satisfaction that is equal in measure to that for which our souls were made: communion with God. And so, the season of Lent is a grace that reminds us that though we are mortal we were made for immortality, the very immortality that is expressed in the event towards which Lent is always moving: Easter. In Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and with him, our resurrection as well. In summation, Lent is a preparation for that event through which the dust of our lives will be gathered into everlasting glory, and in which are insatiable longings will find a satisfaction that will never end.

5 Responses to “Gathered Into Glory”

  1. Roger Green  

    At my church a few years ago, we had a pastor named Matt. He was most definitely a Lenten guy, more than an easter guy. I say this not pejoratively, but sometimes I get the same vibe from you.

    Incidentally, when I was growing up — a long, long time ago — the idea of Protestants doing the ashes on the forehead thing would have been considered papist, but in the past couple decades, it’s much more common in the churches I’ve attended.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – I think I get where you are coming from, and to be honest, I have to be careful to not let my Lenten vibe swallow up my Easter hope. Otherwise this whole christian thing will have gone terribly wrong in my life.

  3. K.L.B.  

    I’m at the wedding of Cana.

    By the way, what’d you sacrifice for Lent? I’ve foregone coffee.

  4. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – Oh yeah, you called me the other day and asked me about that. Give me a call at lunch, which actually fits nicely with my Lenten fast. For Lent I have given up media (Hulu, Netflix) during my lunch hour. I have become quite a media hermit at that time, often going to the cafeteria, getting my good to go, and returning to my office where I will watch a show or half a movie. So, I decided I would either skip lunch and go to the chapel on campus to pray, or I would enjoy a social lunch with a student or colleague.

  5. Rachel  

    Anthony, I really liked what you said about repentence being merely a letting go of something so that we are able to receive something better. I had never thought of it that way but it resonates. It reminds me of something Augustine once said. I can’t give you a direct quote but the idea as that God has things He would give us, but he can’t because our hands are full.
    Thank you for the reminder.