We started lent Wednesday. Most of us gave up electricity. Some of us gave up water. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and freak snowstorms destroy. This is how to understand Lent. It’s not a chance to purify yourself before Easter by not eating sweets. It’s a reckoning with yourself. With what the world really looks like. There are some things you can’t control. You are dust.
So in church, we mark it, not as a season to be sad, but as a season to be honest. The service changes a little bit. The door slams shut. We are left without the angel chorus. We can’t hear their glories and their alleluias through the walls. We can’t sing along anymore. We’re left down here with our treasures, and worse, with ourselves. How’s it going? This is why Jesus talks about fasting. When you fast. Like when you do the dishes, don’t forget to scrub the pans. It’s happening. There’s just a right way and a wrong way. It won’t save us, but It shows us what our treasures are. This year I realized electricity was one of them. This year I realized how short my temper got without them. How much I worried. When are you sitting in your living room fasting from electricity and angry about it, be angry like this: in secret. Nobody else is served by you making a show of it or bemoaning it.
And for just a day, even a few days late, this is Why we learn to wear ashes. We’re left with ourselves for each other to see. Ashes are rude. Ashes aren’t safe. Don’t follow our niceties. That’s the point. They’re an honest reminder. You are dust. They cover all the basic ways we try to convince ourselves and each other everything is great. Power should come on when I flip the switch. Heat should turn on when I set the thermostat. When someone asks “How are you?” You’re supposed to say fine. Not “I am dust”. Lent is confessing that nothing works as it should. We wear ashes to count ourselves among the broken. We’re all marked as the hypocrites and sinners we are. Even as you forget about them and scratch your forehead, then wipe it on your pants, still know. And you can see each other too. Nobody here is just fine.
Look at the ones doing best, ones you secretly envy, and know they’re in the same mess you are. But they’re here for the same reason. They need help too. After church, we will wash our faces like the word says. When we fast, it’s a chance to be honest with ourselves, not show off. But we are in this together. We are dust. That’s the truth about why we can’t hear the Glorias anymore. That’s the truth about the doors to heaven. God didn’t shut them. We did. By sin. Stubbornness. Pride. Anger. Despair. We are dust. Heaven is out of reach. We can’t claw our way up there. We are dust. We are what moth and rust destroy, we are broken down by sin and death. We are what thieves break in and steal, from the devil in his time in the garden to the whispers today that what we believe is foolishness. We are dust. We wear it on our foreheads. We can’t claw our way up to heaven. We can’t build a kingdom that endures. We confess we are what needs saving.
So Christ comes down to get us. To face our temptations. To carry our sins. To take us back from the evil thief. Our death is answered in His on Good Friday. Jesus died on the cross for you. He was made dust for you. Your sins are forgiven you. Your Stubbornness. Pride. Anger. Despair. Forgiven. Jesus forgives all of it. He has to. He loves you too much to see you left alone down here. You are too precious to Him to see you this way. Your losses are his reproach, and your restorations His glory. He can’t wait for Easter either. Even today, we who wear ashes, who slammed shut the doors to the Gloria’s and Alleluias are met by the God who kicks it open to descend to us. He’ll feed us with His body and blood. He’ll strengthen us and reward us with something the world can’t see, but that moth and rust can’t destroy, that thieves can’t break in and steal. Maybe we can’t hear the songs quite yet. But the angels are singing. Our Lord will just have to carry us a little longer so we can finally hear it.