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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Marked for a moment

On Ash Wednesday we face death and life

“... you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all ...” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Crosses by Michael D. WatsonOn Ash Wednesday — this year, Feb. 25 — the sign of the cross will be marked in ash on the foreheads of Christians, a reminder that this earthly life is temporary. Fleeting.

The ashes are easily washed off. But the message that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through” bonds tighter with every passing year, with every passing death.

Living with that reminder on a daily basis is hard. The boomer generation, of which I’m a part, is being dragged toward old age with heels dug firmly in, grasping for handholds of any sort to delay the inevitable. Witness the appeal of Botox and plastic surgery. Modern medicine offers bionic replacements for worn-out joints and drugs to turn back the clock on libido. Stock portfolios were touted not so much as a hedge against poverty but a vehicle to realize dreams deferred—or that’s how it was until the reality of recession hit home.

The vague promise of denial is that if we just keep busy enough, just make enough money, just exercise often and eat better—find the magic formula, then maybe, maybe, death will pass us by.

Ashes are a stark reminder that it won’t, that this life will end. The Bible advises us to store up a treasure that will not rust or decay and that can’t be taken away. The only way to build up this enduring fortune is to invest ourselves into the lives of others, especially those of the less fortunate.

Ashes mark us as mortal. We are here on this Earth but a brief moment in time. Let us use it faithfully.


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