Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Choosing to Love...Without All the Time in the World

Brad Sullivan
Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2018
Emmanuel, Houston
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Choosing to Love…Without All the Time in the World
I was on Facebook this morning as I am every morning, about to start Morning Prayer, which I pray on Facebook so others can join in praying together, and as I was about to start, I noticed a friend’s updated status (a priest friend of mine).  The status was a question and an answer. 
“So, do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?”
“I’m going to go to work and remind everyone of their inevitable death.”
Happy Valentash Wednesday, everyone.  I loved that status update because…well, I love that kind of humor, and because it is so true.  Maybe a bit maudlin, I’ll grant you, but we really are here on Ash Wednesday to remind ourselves of our inevitable death, and of the hope that goes with it. 

We can only really come to that hope of life in and through and beyond death when we first face and accept death.  So many people fear death or try to deny death, and yet death is the one true, inescapable destiny of the human condition.  Death is also the great equalizer.  In the grave, as we return to the dust, there are no rich or poor, no righteous or unrighteous.  Death deals with all equally, as the psalmist says in Psalm 62, “Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”

Even so, as humans, we’re generally not all that great fans of death.  Many of us try to stave it off as long as possible, we try to build up security for ourselves so we can die on our own terms, we fight wars and kill other people in order to prevent our own deaths, and yet without question, everyone is going to face death.  Living in fear of death or trying to deny death, we end up imprisoned by death, so much energy and life wasted in an effort to stave off or deny the inevitable.  Accepting death, however, and accepting the life that continues on through Jesus’ resurrection, we can be freed from death’s hold over us.  All of us go down to the grave, yet even at the grave, we make our song, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!”  Death still stings, but by accepting it, we can live with death and with hope.

Accepting death, we might be able to accept more readily the miraculous nature of our bodies.  We start as dust and we end as dust.  Our bodies are comprised entirely of things that didn’t used to be our bodies.  Every cell and atom in our bodies used to be something else, some other part of creation, and then as we began to be formed in our mothers’ wombs, all of the formerly other stuff became organized for a time as our bodies.  Our bodies remain organized in this way for a time, and then they die and decay.  The stuff that was our bodies is disintegrated, and becomes something else.  From dust we are made, and to dust we shall return.

We aren’t in these bodies for all that long, as Psalm 90 says, “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we are gone.”  Ash Wednesday reminds us of this fact.  As we put ashes on our heads and remember our mortal nature, we are offered no escape from death, no denying the fleeting nature of our bodies.  In Ash Wednesday, there is also no denying the hope we have in Jesus, that whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.  As the Lord’s, we continue on in life, even after our mortal bodies return to the dust.  Trusting in that, trusting in God’s continual care for our lives even after our bodies die, we are free to live without fear and denial of death.  Accepting the ephemeral nature of our lives, accepting that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, we can cherish our bodies and we can cherish each other even more.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return may not be the best selling Valentine’s
Day card ever written, but such a message actually is a message of profound love.  If our lives continued on forever, then choosing to share our lives and love with each other would mean far less.  If things didn’t work out in a relationship, we’d have all the time in the world to try with someone else.  As it is, we don’t have all the time in the world, and so choosing to share our lives and love with people is a tremendous gift and something to be cherished.  As transitory as this life is, I choose to live it with you, family, friends, loved ones.  I choose to cherish you while you inhabit that body, and I choose love you, trusting that through God’s eternal life, not even the heartache of death will end the love and communion we share.  I choose to cherish and share my life with you knowing that we are all dust, and to dust we shall all return.  Maybe it’s not such a bad Valentine’s Day card after all.

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