Ashes

Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.

And so must I—for “dust I am”—and so shall all my works …

What are our works but sin and death
Till thou thy quickening Spirit breathe?

In scarcely any time at all, compared to the few thousand years since the beginning of the world (and, more to the point, to the eternity of God), I will have vanished like mist or a dream does when the sun rises high on a summer morning. And so shall anything I have said or done, unless it not be mine at all, but rather God’s good work for which I have been merely the instrument.

But Lent is not merely a time to contemplate my own mortality, frailty, and transience; the purpose for which I, like every member of the human race, was made is to glorify God, and looking seriously at myself and my works reveals how vastly and often I have failed. I am commanded to be holy, and perfect in my obedience to God’s righteous and just demands, and I am anything but. Because Jesus lives, and the Spirit lives in me—because of Easter and Pentecost—I need not dread the awful punishment that I deserve, but the ashes remind me of the price with which my ransom, my salvation, was bought. Lent is a time to place that sobering thought always before me and turn away from the sins in which I still walk.

Lent is a time to turn away from distractions—and perhaps, at times, even food—in order to turn toward Christ who is my righteousness. Just as an athlete cannot simply eat whatever he likes or sit around all day and still expect to finish a race, but rather (as the Apostle Paul puts it) “makes his body his slave,” so in Lent especially I ought to set aside—for a time, or for good—anything that holds me back or causes me to turn aside from my pursuit of righteousness. As the ashes yearly remind me, I am but dust, lasting as long as a breath, so my life is too short to be spent idly or unproductively—”life is preparation for eternity.”

I am not my own; I belong to Jesus Christ, for I have been bought at a price; therefore I ought to honor God with my body.

See also last year’s meditation.

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