Of Storms and Ash Wednesday Reminders
I was buttoning my shirt in our darkened bedroom when I heard the first tornado siren. Rain poured down and a fierce wind pushed around the branches outside. There were flashes of lightning and cracks of thunder. And then there was that siren and its foreboding wail.
All of this felt substantive, maybe even a little ominous, on Ash Wednesday. It was like creation was sounding some sort of warning alarm at the dawn of Lent. Remember that the storm could come for you at any moment, o mortal. You can rage at a tornado all you want, but it will consume you. You are dust and to dust you will return. This is me and my overactive imagination, but that's all I could think about as the siren blared through the middle Tennessee morning.
The storm system passed to the south of us and, after a wet, gray morning, the sky is now a pale blue speckled with puffs of white. The wind still whips up on occasion; an echo of the early morning. Ash Wednesday here has thankfully lost its meteorological drama, but the reminder still lingers. Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.
The reminder sounds morbid. My time here and your time here is limited. Throw in in the other Ash Wednesday reminder—that we are sinful and must repent—and you could view this as a depressing day. You could. But the reality is these reminders are true and the truth is what we need. Our time here is finite and we cannot take it for granted. We are flawed people and cannot ignore that reality. This is the truth.
Yet there is one more truth that we remember on Ash Wednesday. When the sign of a cross is made on our foreheads we are reminded that we are mortal and messed up, but the cross also reminds us that we are not alone. In Jesus, God came down to be with us. God came to this earth full of small, broken, frail people and rather than being disgusted saw something worth fighting for.
Of course, God fights in a way that is foreign to us. God fights with love, compassion, justice, and righteousness. God fully enters into our broken experience. God gives rather than takes. And in doing this all, God threw death and destruction into reverse. God came to be with us and God is with us.
That is the gospel and that is why the mandate I receive today—to repent and believe that gospel—strikes me to the core. I, frail and fallen, need to change direction. I need to abandon ways of death and destruction. And I need to believe with my heart, my head, and my hands in the God who is with us, who is fighting for us, who wants us to join in that fight.
I do not know when that proverbial storm will consume me. Time is fleeting and that is why I need these reminders. I am finite. I am fallen. Yet despite it all, God is with me. God loves me. God pours out grace on me. God invites me to join in bringing love, compassion, justice, and righteousness into the world. Ultimately that is something that no storm can take away.