February 16, 2023
During one summer in seminary, I served as a chaplain on the Palliative Care floor of a hospital in Liberty, Missouri. My supervisor was a warm-hearted, kind, and gregarious woman named Carmen. She gave me a tour of the hospital and help me get acclimated to this new environment. At the end of that first shift, we sat down in the hospital cafeteria for some coffee. We talked about what it means to serve in a hospital setting and the pastoral care needs that arise from people. But I will never forget that she leaned across the table and said, “And Tyler, the most important insight you need to carry with you as you serve these people is this: You are going to die.”
At first, I was taken aback. What a strange thing to say. However, I later learned the deep and abiding wisdom in what she was saying. She was wanting me to come to terms with the fact that when I walked into a hospital room to serve as a minister, I was not immune from the condition that placed this beloved soul in the bed before me. If I truly wanted to be a pastoral presence to people, that empathy needed to arise from an awareness of my own finiteness, my own weaknesses, and my own mortality.
We live in a death-denying culture, don’t we? We dye our hair, pay thousands to be nipped and tucked, and trick ourselves into thinking we can stave off both time and death.
Well, if you are somebody who is really into denial, then Ash Wednesday is not a day for you. On Ash Wednesday, we stare truth in the face and admit that we are mortal. Our raw honesty cuts through our presumptions about life and places our whole selves into the hands of God. On Ash Wednesday, we recognize our deep and abiding need for God.
And yet…there is a reason that we make the mark of ashes on our foreheads in the sign of a cross. Because the cross of Jesus Christ carries within it the entire foundation of human hope. The ashes are not just reminders of our great weaknesses; they also remind us God’s victory over sin and death through the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, sisters and brothers, I invite you to join us on Wednesday, February 22 at 6:00 PM in the Sanctuary for our Ash Wednesday service. We will gather to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Yet, we return to the One who made us and redeems us.