2/18/2015 – REMEMBER by Samantha Crossley+


Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Ben Franklin said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Musician Steve Earle calls even this well known truism into question saying “They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. The truth is, you can not pay your taxes. I’ve done it, and there’s consequences, but it can be done. Death is you’re not going to get out of, and you kind of got to deal with it.” Death is that great leveler – the journey we will all take, some sooner, some later – but a path we all will travel. It is the ultimate uncomfortable, uneasy opportunity for a deep, honest look.

Ash Wednesday has been described as “the day that Christians get to attend their own funerals”. (Barbara Brown Taylor) You are dust, and to dust you shall return. The words echo the words of our funeral liturgy. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The day that Christians GET to attend their own funerals. Not “have to”. “Get to”. If you knew your funeral, your final funeral, were scheduled in that great cosmic calendar for tomorrow, or next week, or next year, what would you be doing differently? Ash Wednesday proffers an invitation to Holy Lent, a chance to die to some piece of self, and see what that means, how we are changed.

At the breakfast table this morning, the conversation centered on what, if anything, my daughters planned to give up for Lent. This has actually been a topic of conversation for some days. They just can’t quite decide what is “right”, and there was a sense of urgency about it today – a real sense of deadline. As they munched on their breakfasts, my eldest waffled and worried-”should I give up pasta again?” (the girl loves pasta) “Or maybe sweets? Or maybe…” As my youngest pushed yet another bite of pancake dripping with maple syrup into her mouth, “I guess it’s too late to give up pancakes now….”

How do you decide what to give up, how to give it up, whether to give it up? Should I give up pasta or pancakes? Should I give up gossip or angry words? Should I somehow give up the inertia that keeps me off my knees, or the fear that holds me away from what I don’t understand?

Today we recognize that we are the stuff of stars – the Creator made us from the dust of the universe – and that into the dust of the sacred Earth our bodies will return. We mark our own mortality on our foreheads, oddly freed by the knowledge of our mortality…to live.

To have life, there must be death. To serve God we must die a little to self.

Nancy Wood offers this:

You shall ask
What good are dead leaves
And I will tell you
they nourish the sore earth.
You shall ask
What reason is there for winter
And I will tell you
To bring about new leaves.
You shall ask
Why are the leaves so green
And I will tell you
Because they are rich with life.
You shall ask
Why must summer end
And I will tell you
So that the leaves can die.

How do I know what to give up? How do I know what destructive habit, or harmful thought process, or insidiously hurtful pattern must die so that my life can shoot forth new leaves, new life; that I might serve God and God’s creation?

Tonight when you leave here, go home and look in the mirror. Take in that sooty, earthy reminder marked on your forehead. Then look beyond the mark. Look into yourself, into your life. Remember, as Matthew points out today, the point is not to look or feel miserable, nor to look or feel pious. The point is to die into freedom, die into new life today, tomorrow, this Lent, post Easter; every day, all the time.

Think about this offering by Michael Coffee (2013)

“Ash Thursday”

He did the black solemn ritual
and got smeared and humbled though he
didn’t like it much with the flecks falling down
in his eyelashes and the soul’s grief exposed so

He got home and stared at his conundrummed face
for five minutes give or take in the bathroom mirror
it wrecked him to be so humiliated, so mortified
he washed away the ashen cross and dreamed of dying

He woke up Thursday and after peeing and scratching
looked in the mirror and there it was like a Mardi Gras drunken tattoo
his forehead graffitied, black, sooty,
haunting him he wore it all day like an un-bandaged wound

At bedtime that night he washed and slept like a storm-tossed boat
woke up to his sunrise reflection, his sleet eyes squinted
again it was back, his skin tagged with midnight streaks
and he walked the day mortal through to his marrow

After that first Ash Thursday and Ash Friday
and Ash Tomorrow, Ash Next Week
Ash March, Ash Autumn, Ash Solstices
never a day went by when he didn’t see it, let it have its way

Never a day went by thereafter that he didn’t
rise to bless himself with Wednesdays words:
remember you are dust and to dust you shall return
and every day then on he was his free earthy self until he died.

So remember. Remember that you are dust. Remember and rejoice. God created us in the beginning, stays with us now and will never part from us. We are the stuff of stars, the stuff of earth. We are mortal, but we are of the stuff of life. Live in God.

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