For some, this statement carries with it deep emotions and deep meaning of experienced loss. For others, the notion that life is short serves as an excuse to constantly be hurried and rushed. Eventually, we begin to realize that the notion of life being short is simply a reminder that we have one shot, and we are to make the most of this life.
For Christians, today marks a forty day period of self-reflection, self-denial, and re-focusing our lives upon God alone as our source of strength and hope. A reminder that we are called to make the most of this life by focusing on the Creator of our lives.
Since around the 10th century, the Church (capital 'C' Church means the universal Church that was, is now, and will be in the future. Little 'c' church refers more to a local congregation of believers) has practiced the imposition of ashes upon the foreheads of believers as a sign of turning from one's sins and being reminded of our mortality. In the early Church, when someone committed a serious sin they would be removed from the local church and the sprinkling of ashes or the wearing of a rough garment was a sign that they had repented of their sins and would be welcomed back into the community (glad we don't do that today! At least in my church!). It wasn't until the 10th century that the Church began to practice the imposition of ashes as a rite, the ashes representing the Old Testament notion of purification and a reminder of mortality as seen in Genesis 3:19 when God tells Adam "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
A somber reminder of our mortality and the fact that we are one breath, one heartbeat away from being in the presence of God.
The fact is:
We are mortal.
One day we will die.
One day we will see the face of God
Jesus offers comfort to his believers when he says "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me" - John 14:1. Jesus speaks these words just after explaining to the disciples that he must suffer and die for the sins of the world (John 3:16). I can imagine that the disciples were a little less than enthused to hear that their teacher, the one they had followed and trusted, was about to die. Their hope was fading. But, Jesus offers them hope in this verse and afterward Jesus continues on to say that it is to the benefit of the disciples that he "go to the Father" (John 14:12) because they will do greater things than even Jesus had done! Jesus is saying that the story isn't over, that hope is not lost, and that the best is yet to come!
Is hope fading in your life right now? Are you experiencing a spiritual desert, navigating the arid landscape of dry religion and spirituality? Let me encourage you to seek God during this season of Lent, and allow yourself to be reminded not only of the fact that your life is worth living, but that God has accepted your cry for help. It may sound counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and downright crazy, but when we turn from ourselves and our own way of doing things and instead decide to trust in God completely, we experience the abundant life that Jesus proclaimed during his earthly ministry and continues to offer us today.
May you find encouragement and strength today, and may God continually remind you that there is hope in the ashes.