“Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Not very pleasant words. A reminder that I shall die. A reminder that I shall be judged. That’s not very comforting. The gospel is meant to trouble us. Surely it comforts us, but during Lent it is supposed to confront our egos and illusions about ourselves. So often we will fail during our Lenten resolutions, but these “failures” remind us of an eternal truth—I need to be saved, by one stronger than myself. I can’t do it alone. I need…a Savior. And the Savior can only save the one who acknowledges that he needs to be saved. We remind ourselves daily that we need to be saved through acts of Lenten penance: fasting, prayers, Confession, forgiveness, sacrifice, conversion, pardon, and most importantly this year—Mercy! Penance is that constant reminder that this life is only a pilgrimage. Penance prompts us not to cling to the things of this world, but to seek things eternal.
This week we begin the Lenten season by marking ourselves unmistakably with the ashes upon our forehead. The external and very public acknowledgement that you and I are sinners in need of a Savior. We enter now into these 40 days of Lent, after which comes the glory of Easter. For 40 days and nights there was the great flood of Noah, followed by a beautiful new earth. Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then arrived at the beauty of the land of milk and honey. Jesus spent 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil in the desert, and then was ministered to by the heavenly angels themselves. And it is Easter that awaits those who have passed through these 40 days of Lent. Never has Easter ever come before Lent. In order to get to the magnificence that awaits us at Easter, first…Lent!