Dust and Transformation: Ash Wednesday and Lent Reading Plan
Ashes and Death
Well this has, in some ways, been a rough year (in many others it has been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this post). I’ve been to too many funerals (by the way, one is too many), and had friends and acquaintances nearly be killed instantly by cars, or be diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer, and with it the looming specter of death. When I really thought about it, rarely are we ready or prepared for people to die. Even when we say we are ready, we always wish for one more conversation, to tell them about this one thing they missed, to say I love you one last time. Yet we cannot.
Life is fragile. As I drove in my car the other day I thought, any second I could be hit by another car and that would be it. Done. I don’t think of myself as ready to go, and I’m fairly certain it would be a heavy blow to my family. I know I’m not the only one. The same scenario would hold true for many people, and every day, at least one person in the world dies suddenly, unexpectedly, leaving a gap behind them. Not ready to go. It wasn’t her time. He was so full of life. A shock. Here as though there are years left, and gone in an instant. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it “It’s a dangerous business…, going out your front door.” And yet we do it every day. We think of ourselves as strong, as impervious. We make plans for upcoming years, yet actually have very little control over whether we will be around in those years to come. We are all of us ashes. Embers that burn quickly and then are no more.
Dust and Creation
As the bible puts it, we are dust. We are ephemeral, and cannot be gripped too tightly. We blow away in the wind. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet the metaphor for dust, as I noted last year at Ash Wednesday, is not just for the fragility of life, but to remind us of our origin. God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.
Dust you are and to dust you will return.
Rather than a statement of outright sorrow, though there is that, this is also a reminder of the new creation just around the corner. God makes something out of dust and breathes life into it. Lent is not a buildup to Good Friday, and the death of the Son of God. Lent is an anticipation of His Resurrection and the life that comes out of death. And by pointing to the Resurrection of the Son of God, it points to ours as well. In the midst of sorrow, joy. In the midst of death, life. As things are given up, new creation takes root.
Fundamentally, lent is also about something new, something creative, something constructive.
A Constructive Lent
This year, then, I’m not giving up something for Lent. I’m a Baptist and I have that option (we’re not really liturgical, just some of us pretend from time to time). Instead, though, I’m going to do something constructive. If you are going to celebrate Lent, and you haven’t decided what you will give up, let me encourage to you to instead do something constructive. Participate in God’s already present kingdom here on earth, and in so doing catch a glimpse of his return and the new earth he will refine out of this one. Don’t be legalistic about it, be constructive, building a picture of God’s Kingdom. Part of doing something constructive is something I did last year, a reading of a book of the bible for Lent. This year, we’re going to go through James (to look at last year’s where we went through Galatians, see the link at the top of the page). Below is the reading plan. If you just can’t come up with anything else to do for Lent, then perhaps you could join me in the reading plan (or if you want to add to what you have done).
James is a little bit shorter than Galatians, so the readings will be shorter. Also, I will try better this year to keep my own reflections relatively short as well. Most days it is 3 verses, sometimes 4, occasionally 2, and one day is only 1 verse. I think that should be manageable. I’ll be posting them shortly after midnight on the day marked, so if you do your bible reading in the morning it will be ready when you are. The other posts for this blog will come up later in the day, but if you only want to follow the lent readings you can either click the “Lent Series” Category marker, the tab at the top of the main page that will link to this year’s Lent reading calendar (also click here).