By Linda Rex
I don’t know about you, but some days I wonder whether it was worth the effort to even get out of bed. It seems from the moment my feet hit the floor I am running backwards faster than I am moving forward. On days like this, hot tea or coffee doesn’t seem to help, and I’m hoping that the first person who comes in the door at work will pretend they don’t see me and will walk right on down the hall.
But the phone rings right then and I have to answer it. The cheerful tone in my voice is a little forced, but somehow in the middle of the conversation about who they need to talk to about what I find the capacity to genuinely serve and help someone. A silent prayer of gratitude forms in my heart—it seems there is hope for me after all, but only because of God’s grace and power.
And this is the thing about Good Friday. Here on this day we may ponder the suffering of Christ. We may read the story of him being taken into custody, having been betrayed by one of his very own followers. He did not get a good night’s rest, but spent the hours being grilled, beaten, and falsely accused of things which would never have even crossed his mind.
What really is amazing about this story is in his broken humanity, crushed by the anger and hate of fellow human beings, and weakened by the loss of blood and blows to his body, Jesus was at his strongest and most powerful. Why would I say that? Because he had access to legions of angels and to all the forces in the universe—and he did not call on them to help. What incredible strength of will and depth of humility!
In Hebrews, the writer says Jesus, “for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb. 12:2 NASB). He did not resist, nor did he regret, what he did in bearing up under the crucifixion. He had his heart and mind focused on the spiritual realities, securely rooted in his eternal relation with his Abba. He knew he was loved, held, and not forsaken, no matter how things appeared at the moment. And he had something he was trying to accomplish—something to complete—the destruction and removal of evil, sin, and death from our humanity and our cosmos.
What a task! To wrestle with the forces of evil requires incredible stamina of mind and will. To resist the temptation to quit or give in demands endurance and perseverance beyond our human capacity. To hang on when even the human body gives way means there was much more needed than just a human being dying on a cross when Jesus was crucified. The very presence of God himself on that cross was what was needed and what Abba gave us in sending us his Son Jesus to stand in our stead.
Because our Jesus was fully God and fully man, he conquered evil, sin, and death completely. There is nothing which was left undone in his gift of himself on the cross. He did it not because he had to, but because he chose to. He did it in love for you and for me.
So, if Jesus did such a good and complete job of conquering evil, sin, and death, why do I still struggle with my attitude and my behavior? Why do we still have people who go around shooting other people? What’s the point of what Jesus has done?
That is a really good question. I could say, Jesus set us an example of how we are to live our lives—as good people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. That’s a nice sentiment, but it lacks any substance. Just ask anyone who has for any length of time tried to really live the way Jesus lived—it’s really hard to do, actually next to impossible for us as humans to achieve in this life. No, there is something more going on than this.
I believe Jesus gave us as human beings the capacity to once again be truly human—to live the way we were created to live—loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus enabled us to be genuine in our humanity by setting us free from evil, sin, and death, and enabling us to live in intimate relationship with his Abba by his Spirit.
And there it is. We have the capacity to be truly human because of Jesus. He has joined us forever with the Being of God in his Person so we can participate in the union and communion of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet, it took Jesus dying, rising, and sending the Spirit for this to be worked out in each of our lives individually. We each have been given the gift of God’s Spirit and Presence but are called upon to receive this gift and participate in the life we were created for.
The process of receiving this gift resembles remarkably the events of Good Friday. The Maundy Thursday meal where Jesus offered his body as the bread and his blood as the wine, was meant to help us identify the gift which was being given—Jesus Christ himself—his life for our life, his ways for our ways, his plans for our plans.
We join Jesus in his story on Good Friday as we own the truth of our failures, our missing the mark of who we were meant to be as God’s beloved children, and we lay down our broken humanity and receive his humanity in its place. We embrace the living Christ, who dwells within by his Spirit, surrendering to his Presence and Power.
This laying down that we might rise also means tossing away our feeble efforts at becoming godlike under our own power. Indeed, facing the reality of our failures as humans is healthy and essential to the process. We need to be willing to say, “I didn’t…”, “I can’t…”, and even, “I won’t…”—to admit the truth of our resistance against all which right, true, and holy. We can boldly come to our Abba and say, because of Jesus and our intimate connection with him, “I was wrong. I should not have done that, thought that, or said that.” And we can know in that moment, we are forgiven, embraced, and held. In spite of our failures, we are loved and included in Abba’s life.
As Jesus laid in the tomb on Holy Saturday, it seemed to all those he had grown close to that all hope was lost. In the same way, we can at times be so overwhelmed by the evil, sin, and death of this human existence, we begin to believe all hope is lost. We can live blinded to what is really going on: Jesus Christ is making all things new, and we are included in that great work he is doing right now in this world. All is forgiven and healed in him, but not everyone has embraced Abba’s solution to the problem.
Indeed, God calls on you and me, once in the sacrament of baptism, often as we eat the bread and wine in communion, and moment by moment as we live our lives, to die with Christ and rise with Christ. This is the truth of our existence, so we act like it. We live as though it were true.
In this moment in front of us, we may feel like we’re still rotting in the grave, but when we take a step in faith—trusting we are instead walking out of the tomb into the bright sunlight of God’s love and grace—we’ll find, that’s exactly the case. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are held. We are truly, essentially, and fully human, as God meant us to be.
Thank you, Abba, for including us in your life and love, through your Son Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to see how we individually and collectively participate in your story, Jesus, when you walked the road to and through death and resurrection, and to receive this gift of love and forgiveness with open hearts and hands. May we receive and live in the fullness of the gift of our true humanity in and through you, Jesus, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Hebrews 10:18 NASB
By Linda Rex
We’ve been discussing heaven on Wednesday nights at our group meeting. This week we were examining how the beginning of the Bible and the end of the Bible come together with humanity having access to the tree of life.
In Genesis, we learn God created Adam from the earth, and then picked him up and placed in in a special garden. In time, God brought Eve from Adam to join him in this Garden of Eden. And within this special garden was the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were told they could eat of any tree in the garden they wanted to, but they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
From the beginning God offered humanity the tree of life. This true life was meant to be ours—a joining together of our life with God’s life. We were meant to participate in an abundance of being in which we drew our life from God himself, in fellowship and harmony with him.
Adam and Eve, in choosing to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought upon themselves and all humanity the sentence of death. For millennia since we have as human beings chosen the way of death rather than the way of life, by going our own way and determining for ourselves what is good and what is evil. We have closed the door between us and our Creator and Redeemer, refusing to receive our life and being from him (even though our life really does come from him).
The cherubim which God set at the door to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve left there, he set there to protect us. He knew in this state of self-determination, self-reliance, and self-will, humanity would only spiral down into nothingness and self-destruction. And this was not what he created us for. We were meant for so much more than this—we were meant to truly live.
The pages of the Bible are filled with God’s story of how he brought this cosmos and its inhabitants into existence out of nothing. It tells how he created human beings in his likeness to share in his glory, and how when they chose the way back to nothingness, he came to reveal himself to them and to deliver them.
The One who was the Son of God and through whom all things came into being entered our sphere of existence: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men (John 1:3-4 NASB)”. This God in human flesh, Jesus Christ, stood on earth and said to those around him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6 NASB).”
In the final chapters of the Bible, in the apocalyptic language of the day, the apostle John describes the coming of the New Jerusalem down to earth. All has been made new—new heaven and new earth—and God has come to dwell with humanity here on earth. From the place where God dwells flows the river of life, and by it the tree of life, which bears fruit and leaves which bring healing to the nations (Rev. 21-22).
Somehow along the way, we as humans seem to always manage to wander off the path which would take us to the tree of life. Our best efforts actually prevent us from participating in what God meant to be ours all along. It’s like we’re standing at the gate, fumbling with the latch, and yet we can’t seem to figure out how to open the door. We’ve tried climbing over the fence, crawling underneath it, and even attempted to cut our way through. But in the end, it turns out, there is only one way to get in—through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t mean anyone is excluded, but rather that all are included. This means the opening is available to each and every human being—because Jesus stood in the place of each and every human being. Because he is God in human flesh, Jesus Christ is the redemption of each and every human being—he is the Gate, the Door, the Way—the Path to true life, the life we were created for.
This Stone which the builders rejected (Psalm 18:19) is the very foundation of the new life which is ours. And, so, we cry, “Hosanna!”—save us! We long for this life, and we seek so often and in so many ways to find it in our human, temporal existence. But we end up in slavery or in some form of death because of our efforts. In our hearts, we are always crying in some way, “Lord, if you are real, then please, save us!” And yet, we avoid with horror the very source of our true life—Jesus Christ.
This is what we each must wrestle with as we seek our path to real life: Who or what is the source of my life? From what, or who, do I draw my existence, my joy, and my very being?
There are many paths to walk, but only one trodden first by our Maker and Sustainer. There are many doors we can walk through, but only one Door which leads to real life. There are many reasons to get up in the morning, but only one Logos, or Reason, which gives real purpose to our lives. God will bring us each to the place where we must deal with the truth of our existence—we must face up to the reality there is only one way to live as human beings, and it’s not our way, it’s his.
Our humanity has been swept up into the divine life and love in Jesus Christ. He has purchased for us, through his broken body and shed blood, an entirely new human existence. He has in essence, in himself, recreated us as human beings and picked us up and placed us once again in the garden from which we were expelled. He has led us by the hand to the tree of life and is standing there with the fruit in his hand, inviting us to eat.
We can reach out, take the fruit, and bite off a large piece and begin chewing. Or we can try to run to the other end of the garden and grab some more of that knowledge of good and evil. Jesus calls out to you and to me, “Eat and live!” This is why we come to the table of communion each Sunday: We are invited again to come to Christ, to find our life in him, to share in his broken body and shed blood by partaking of the bread and the wine once again—our participation in communion is a turning away from ourselves and our feeble attempts at finding our own path and life, and a turning to him, showing we are drawing our life from him and him alone.
And this is why we participate in the act of baptism—the one-time expression of our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection through being immersed in water. We demonstrate in this act our immersion in the Spirit of life which Abba has sent through his Son. We show in a real way our inclusion in the body of Christ—the gathering of those who are actively participating in the life which is ours in and through Jesus Christ. We are dead to our old ways of living and being and we have been raised to new life.
Whatever we may understand heaven to be or not be, we do not need to wait until the end of our life to experience eternal life. Eternal life begins now—in our participation in Christ’s life. Jesus has entered triumphantly into our human existence, bearing it in himself to the cross, and bringing it through death by crucifixion to the resurrection into new life. He bears our humanity, even now, in the presence of Abba—this is the ultimate reality of our existence we celebrate during Holy Week.
We are included in God’s life. Every moment of our existence is lived in the real presence of God, through Jesus and by his Spirit. This is why the apostle Paul said, “Be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18 NASB)”. We embrace the indwelling Christ, the One who is the Way, the Life—our real existence, for he lives in us by the Spirit. We have real life, now and forever. This is the true blessing of our existence, for which we give thanks and praise to God.
Thank you, Abba, for sending your Son and your Spirit, so we may share in true life with you both now and forever. This Holy Week, remind us anew of your grace and love, and awaken us to a deeper faith, through the gift of your Son, Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it. I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation.” Psalm 118:19-21 NASB
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt. 7:13-14 NASB
By Linda Rex
Today the nations are gathering to lay to rest a man who by God’s grace touched the lives of thousands with the word of God. Billy Graham impacted many lives with his preaching as he took the gospel of Jesus Christ all over the world.
Although I would preach the gospel in a more inclusive manner than he did, I cannot ignore the reality Jesus allowed Billy Graham to participate with him in the ministry of the gospel in a powerful way. I have met and been friends with several people whose lives were transformed by the ministry of the Spirit as they listened to Billy Graham preach and teach.
What has impressed me most about his ministry is, he was faithful and blameless. No, he wasn’t perfect. And no, he wasn’t perfectly correct in his preaching and theology. Neither am I. Rather, he was faithful and blameless.
Indeed, God calls us into relationship with himself in Jesus, and as he said to Abram millennia ago, he says, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless (Gen. 17:1b NASB), or
“Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life” (Gen. 17:1b NLT). What God is calling us to isn’t to get everything exactly right, but to live faithfully within the covenant relationship he has established with us in his Son Jesus Christ.
The reason God can call us to this is because of what he has done in giving us his Son. Our Abba knew even before he created us we would be unable to live as we ought within the perichoretic life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He knew we would turn away from him to ourselves, because we are what we are—creatures, frail and faulty. So even before time began, God chose to redeem us in his Son. He chose us as his very own by choosing us in his Son.
Indeed, it was always God’s wish that you and I and every other human being be included in God’s life and love. It was never God’s desire that any of us be separated from him in any way. Yet we listen to the evil one and seek our own path to glory, seeking to be gods in our own way, and turn away from the One who loves us faithfully and completely.
So God came himself in the person of the Word and entered into our humanity. He became “sin” for us. He bore our faults and wickedness—taking upon himself our weakness and frailty. He lived our life and died our death—and he rose again, bringing us with him into the presence of the Father. This is the truth of our existence—our true reality as humanity. And then Abba through Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to begin to make this real in each of us individually.
We each, then, have a life which is hidden with Christ in God—this is the truth of our existence. What we do with that, though, is what matters now. The Holy Spirit was sent to each and every person—but do we receive this gift or reject this gift? Do we welcome and embrace the indwelling Christ? No one is excluded from this gift—but everyone is free to exclude themselves if they wish.
This life which is ours, which Christ lived for us and gives us in the gift of the Spirit, is a life lived in fellowship with Abba, Jesus, and the Spirit. It is a life in which we “walk before” God—in the presence of God—sharing and participating in his life and love, and in Jesus’ ministry in and to this world.
The life of Christ is a way of being—a way of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This life of Christ which we join in on is filled with God’s love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness because of the presence within of the Person of the Holy Spirit—“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
When we participate fully in Christ’s life—when we are “in Christ”—we are blameless. God does not hold anything against us. We are held in grace—Christ is our life. He stands in our place. Christ’s life for our life.
When we come to faith in Christ, we are baptized as a participation in Christ’s baptism, confessing that we died with him and we rose with him. Baptism becomes our entry into this covenant relationship on our side, and expresses our participation in the body of Christ, the Church. Through baptism, we are included in fellowship with other believers.
We partake of the elements of communion on a regular basis to give thanks for this perfect gift and are reminded once again—our life is in Christ alone. He is our sustenance. He is our perfected life. In Christ we are held in the midst of the life and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is all of grace.
Our ability to continue in this relationship is all of grace as well. It is the gift of God. He brings us to repentance and he holds us in his perfect love. He enables us to be faithful—it is not our own ability but the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us which keeps us faithful in our covenant relationship with Abba in Jesus.
We rest in Christ—we trust God will keep us faithful to the end—we turn our sights toward heaven and our Lord and Savior, and act as if there is no other direction for our lives. Christ will finish what he has begun in us. All he asks is that we trust him moment by moment, participating fully in this covenant relationship with Abba he has brought us into. We live in the truth of who we are in Christ—we walk by the Spirit, not by our flesh. The old has gone—the new has come. And we live and walk in the truth of that, day by day, for the rest of our lives.
Then, as we face the end of our lives as Billy Graham did, we can embrace eternity with joy and hope. We have nothing to fear from death because it has no power over us. We are already participating in the eternal life Jesus brought us into by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We merely step over into the true realities we were already participating in by faith. Those around us will celebrate with us, because they can say with assurance, “This dear one was blameless, faithful, and beloved.” And that’s a great legacy to leave behind.
Dear God, you are faithful and blameless, and we are made in your image, after your likeness, to be faithful and blameless as well. Thank you, Abba, for giving us Jesus and your Spirit that we may be faithful and blameless as you are. We trust you will finish what you have begun in us, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the LORD called out to him, ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look. Then the LORD said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’ So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.” Acts 7:30-36 NASB
By Linda Rex
For me, driving to the post office means taking a spin in my car through the Tennessee countryside. I get to see pretty ranches with horses and cattle, rocks and trees on the hills, and lovely homes in the valleys. I pass a pond where the ducks paddle about looking for tidbits to eat. Though right now most of the trees have no leaves and the ground is covered with brown leaves from last fall, there is still a quiet sense of beauty and the presence of God.
As I drove through the woods this morning, the road opened up to where I passed by a tall willow tree. Though the other night the tree was gray and seemed to be dripping sorrow, this morning it was covered with little green leaves. The difference was striking and quite beautiful.
On the ground nearby where grass was beginning to turn green again there were some yellow daffodils blooming their hearts out. The signs of spring were everywhere this morning. And I had to ask myself, as one who spent many a winter in southeast Iowa, what’s going to happen when it freezes again? It is only February—it’s too soon for all this!
In the story of Abraham and Sarah, we are reminded there are always signs of spring, even when the evidence tells us otherwise. God came to them when they were too old to have children, when their bodies were beyond the capacity for child-bearing, and told them Sarah would have a child. God presented them with a paradox of hope in which the only proper response would be faith—an implicit trust in the faithfulness and goodness of God.
We may find ourselves today in the winter of our lives where all our hope is dead and we don’t see any hope for new life. We may be stepping out into new ways of living and being, but all we are meeting with is opposition and resistance. And yet, it is good to be reminded these bleak and difficult times may be the very place where we experience the greatest new growth and transformation.
What we need in the midst of our winter or death and dying is hope. We need to see with the eyes of faith the evidence that spring is on its way. We need to recognize the reality that even when death is all around us, there is new life being birthed in that very moment.
During the season of Lent, we have the opportunity to reexamine the life of Christ at work within us and be reminded of how God has called us into relationship with himself in Jesus Christ. The Spirit enables us to see what is really going on in our hearts and minds, and in those areas we have turned away from Christ, he invites us to turn back again. At the basis of our examination, though, needs to be an assurance of God’s love and faithfulness to us as expressed in the gift of his Son and the pouring out of his Spirit.
We were created for life—life in close relationship with Abba and Jesus in the Spirit. The real life we were created for is a communion and oneness of being in which there is a mutual pouring out of and pouring into by each and every participant of God’s life. We make room for others as they make room for us. We make room for God as he has and does make room for us in Christ and by his Spirit.
It is the disruptions of this perichoretic life which we attend to during Lent. We may ask ourselves, “How am I participating in God’s life and love? Am I living in the truth of who I am as God’s child, made in his image? Does my life and how I live it orbit around myself, or am I keeping in step with the divine dance—receiving and giving—receiving what God pours into me and pouring it back out into God and others? In what ways should I turn away from myself and turn back to Christ and Abba, and out to those around me?”
The point of this contemplation is not to focus upon ourselves. If our examination of the life of Christ at work within us revolves around us and our failures, we have missed the point. This kind of self-examination only creates discouragement and defeat. It focuses on death and dying. And it does not attend to what really matters—the life of Christ at work within us by the Holy Spirit.
Our journey during Lent can echo Christ’s journey during his forty days in the wilderness. He was challenged by Satan to deny his identity as the Son of Man and to live out of his being as the Son of God. But Christ identified with you and me instead by choosing to live in total dependency upon his Abba by the Spirit.
This is our life. As Satan attempts to draw us away from this truth of our being, distracting us with all the ways we can live as gods and goddesses under our own steam, we can instead choose life. We can choose instead the eternal life Jesus spoke of which is the deep knowing of our Abba and the Son he sent. Instead of focusing on our failures and shortcomings, we focus on the reality Jesus stood in our place—his life for our life. We share in his perfect relationship with his Abba by the Spirit.
Instead of relying upon ourselves in self-centered living, we can live in total dependency upon Abba through Jesus in the Spirit. Satan and his ways of self-centered living are defeated foes. Death, evil, and sin may still be all around us, and still haunt the inner recesses of our mind and heart, but the true reality of our perfected humanity is hidden with Christ in God. There is life in the midst of death—hope in the midst of failure, sorrow, and defeat.
We need to attend to the signs of spring and ignore the overwhelming evidence of winter all around us. We need to walk by faith, not by sight. Christ is our life, and he lives within us by his Spirit. God is at work even now, and will not cease working to make all things new—in heaven, and on earth, and within us. And he will finish what he has begun—we have his word on this—and, thankfully, God always keeps his word. He is trustworthy.
Abba, thank you for your faithful and compassionate love. Thank you for your boundless grace expressed to us in the gift of your Son. And thank you for pouring into our hearts your precious Holy Spirit. Thank you for including us in your life through your Son in your Spirit. Grant us the grace to trust you will finish what you have begun in us, believing what you have in mind for us is far beyond our capacity to ask or imagine. May we leave winter behind and focus on spring, no matter how bleak things may look at the moment, through Jesus our Lord and by your Spirit. Amen.
“[Abraham] is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why it was ‘credited to him as righteousness.’” Romans 4:17b-22 NIV
By Linda Rex
On Wednesday this week a few of us gathered at Good News Fellowship, and we spent some time reflecting on the meaning of Ash Wednesday and sharing the Lord’s table together. This year was a bit unusual because Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day were both celebrated on the same day.
In some ways there can be a disconnect between these two celebrations. As I walked around the local grocery store earlier in the day, the amount of fresh flowers and candy which were available for the customers was overwhelming. We watched people walking out the door with bundles of flowers, and my daughter and I speculated on who these flowers were for—a wife, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a mother, or someone in the hospital?
But the irony was, we were surrounded by all this abundance at the same time some of us were trying to determine what, if anything, we were planning to give up for Lent. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season and Lent is a time when we may in some way participate with Jesus in his forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. We participate in Lent by heeding the Spirit’s call to repentance. During Lent, it is appropriate to offer something to God or give something up temporarily as a way of making ourselves available for the Spirit to grow, heal, and renew us. This is a spiritual discipline which has been practiced by people in the universal Church for centuries.
There is a perspective of repentance and humility we can gain by taking some time in somber reflection on our broken humanity and expressing to God our acknowledgement of our need for and utter dependence upon him. He is our Abba who not only made us and sustains us, but also redeemed us in his Son Jesus, and dwells in us and with us by his precious Spirit.
Many traditions offer a smudge of ashes upon a person’s forehead on Ash Wednesday as a mark of humility and an acknowledgement of our need for grace and salvation. The priest often uses the words of scripture: “All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” (Eccl. 3:20 NASB) That seems rather final to me. There is so much more to the story than we’re all going to end up in the ground, returned to the basics of our existence—the ground out of which we were made.
It seems to me, and this is just my opinion, that it ought to be possible to celebrate Ash Wednesday as a time of humility and hope. To me, I don’t feel we need to abandon our hope in the resurrection just because we are acknowledging our brokenness and need for Christ. As I offer the mark of ashes upon each one’s forehead, I like to say something to the effect of, “You came from dust, you return to dust. We thank the Lord of the dust he has joined us in our dust so we will join with him in glory.” The gospel tells us that death is not the end—there is so much more to our existence than this!
Thomas Torrance in chapter two of his book “Atonement” examines Psalm 49. Here he shows how the ransoming of a human soul or life is impossible for you or me. There is no price we could pay which would be sufficient to redeem any person from death. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot save ourselves. Our best efforts are insufficient.
God made us, the wonderful creatures we are, in his own image, to reflect his likeness. We are to be image-bearers of God himself. Yet it seems we prefer to image everything but God. And because of that, we invariably inherit death. We have, in essence, a “death-wish”—a corruption in our humanity which we cannot fight against or escape on our own.
God made us from nothing to have a glory which was a reflection of his. And all we seem to do is choose the path back to nothingness. As Athanasius said in “On the Incarnation”, in seeing his good creation falling back into the nothingness from which it was made, what was God, being good, to do?
What was God to do, indeed? As Torrance explains, God gave a life for a life—his life for the life of humanity. The great exchange is the Word of God, the true Image-bearer of Abba, given for you and me and every other human being who has ever existed, in our place and on our behalf. The Life for our life.
This is how we know we are loved by God. The apostle John writes, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us….” (1 John 3:16 NASB) Whatever Valentine’s Day may mean to each of us, we can know this: The true expression of love is found in the gift of Abba—his Son. The laying down of his Son’s life for you and for me and for every other human being on this earth is a true expression of genuine and faithful love. And no bouquet of flowers or box of candy could ever match that precious gift. The Life for our life.
So, even though we can and should admit our brokenness and our desperate need for salvation, we can also at the same time rest in the eternal embrace of God’s love and grace. We can face the dust to which we return without fear—death has lost its sting. In Christ, there is no fear of death left. We can see death for what it is—a defeated foe, a failed conqueror. Death and sin are cast into the fire of God’s love and grace and no longer reign triumphantly over us. And so we have hope in the midst of our humility.
Thank you, Abba, for your precious gift. Thank you, Jesus, for giving yourself in our place. Thank you, Spirit, for bringing this to full expression in each of our lives in your own special way. Our Loving God, we give you gratitude and praise, and offer you all our love and devotion, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave. Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind. The grave is their eternal home, where they will stay forever. They may name their estates after themselves, but their fame will not last. They will die, just like animals. This is the fate of fools, though they are remembered as being wise. Interlude Like sheep, they are led to the grave, where death will be their shepherd. In the morning the godly will rule over them. Their bodies will rot in the grave, far from their grand estates. But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.” Psalm 49:5-15 NLT