Ash Wednesday 2022

Hebrews 12:1-14

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

 

Donna, One Year Later

My first chaplain supervisor and surrogate father, Alan, said to me forty-four years ago: “Never try to take away a person’s denial. It may be the only thing that is keeping him or her from completely falling apart.”

February 19, the first anniversary of my beloved sister’s death, passed without my attending to the day. Joan, our bookkeeper, had said to me a couple of weeks before, “The first anniversary of your sister’s death is coming up.” I never really acknowledged what she said. Our daughter said as February began that she hated the 19th. Her aunt died on that day and her beloved dog Josie died on another 19th day (March 2020). Again, in my mind, I didn’t really acknowledge what our daughter said. It was too painful.

When your loved ones live two long days’ drive away, the reality of death never hits until you arrive at their house and they are not there to greet you. Until you see the tombstone with their name and death date, it just isn’t real in your mind. On the one hand, you know how it is, because you can no longer call your loved ones or receive mail from them. But when your daily routine is uninterrupted by their death, denial protects you from the pain of separation. Those close at hand cannot be shielded in the same way.

Most of us live with the denial of our own death firmly in place. Parents, sadly, try to shield their little ones from death, which is about their own denial. Nominal Christians will keep their membership in a church they rarely, if ever, attend, or their obituaries will say “she was a Lutheran” without mention of a church. Many Americans have a mishmash kind of “spirituality,” which is the sadly laughable assumption they are the center of the universe and are in charge of what happens when they die. Christians practice their faith.

Even many semi-regular worshipers stay home on Ash Wednesday, because the denial of death is undone when the pastors say, “Remember, o mortal, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Ashes on the forehead are uncomfortable reminders that the wages of sin is death. Cremated bodies are reduced to a very small bag of ashes. In the great scheme of time and eternity, we are, incredibly, dust in the wind. Time like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all away. Our loved ones’ deaths shatter our illusions.

I know that Donna is with the Lord, now numbered with that great cloud of witnesses that includes far more of our Christian relatives than we care to admit. We know more people there than here. It’s lonely.

On Ash Wednesday, we confess our bondage to sin and our need for our Savior Jesus Christ. The pastors mark our foreheads with ashes in the shape of His cross to remind us of our Baptism’s promise: Having died with Him in Baptism, even though we die, yet we shall live with the Triune God forever in imperishable bodies that will be raised when Christ shall come with trumpet sound. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ Blood and righteousness. Our hope is not for this life of joy and sorrow.

Thank you, dear Father, for Donna, whose hope was in Jesus Christ in this life and who is now enveloped in the eternal life and love you promise your children in Holy Baptism and give again and again in Word and Meal. Grant us the comfort of the Church Triumphant when denial fails us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Put one penny, nickel, or dime in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.