In the past few weeks I’ve had a good reminder that there is truth in the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” The first happened at a funeral. I was with a family at the committal in the cemetery. Her sons had placed the casket. I moved my foot and before I knew what was happening my feet were dangling in the grave. I’ve been joking ever since that day I turned forty and now look I have one foot in the grave. But for a brief moment, in that split second mixed emotion where I was embarrassed, I scared of falling all the way in, there was something else. A reminder that life is unpredictable and that there are no guarantees. As we say in the funeral liturgy “All of us go down to the dust.”
The second reminder of this came courtesy of Facebook. A facebook friend found an old thumb drive with pictures from about 12 years ago. She posted them and as I scanned the pictures there was a younger version of myself smiling back at me. We are given a mere handful of days. We don’t stay same in those handful of days – lines from laughter and tears marks our faces. Responsibilities shift and change with each passing day. Joys and sorrows mix and mingle as we live taking each day as it comes.
Ash Wednesday is a reminder of all these things – life and death, pain and joy. Amy Biancollie in her blog “Figuring. Shit. Out. Life seems to dish it out. I seem to write about it.” writes beautifully about scars those you can see and those that can’t be seen with eyes.
“My biggest scars show no outward trace. But in the two and a half years since my kids and I absorbed the sudden blow of losing [my husband] Chris, a rough but healing dermis has formed around that wound, as well. A whole lot of life has occurred between then and now. The grief is still there. We can put our fingers on it, feel the bone beneath it, see the pucker of skin around its glossy ridge. It never fades, not completely — and it can hurt like hell during a flare-up. But our lives have grown around it. And thank God, they just keep growing.” (http://figuringshitout.net)
Scars are reminders of the healing that comes after nights of sorrow. Scars show how far we’ve come. In those painful moments before the scars are formed we need some help from friends and from God. We’ve done a really good job in the church of turning Jesus into a meek and mild with children sitting on his knee. But when it comes to dealing with hard topics like life and death and human failings, most of us need, want more. We need the Jesus who stands against death and destruction. We need the Jesus who eats with sinners and tax collectors because they are his people. We need the Jesus who is not afraid of those things in our world that tare down, destroy, and bring pain.
Jesus is the guy in the sheepfold fighting off the bandits and the thieves. It doesn’t say who exactly the thieves and bandits are but we can guess. They are pain causers, heartbreakers, the life destroyers. And Jesus is right there in it with us. Fighting the thieves and bandits. Reminding us that we are not in this alone. Jesus is with us when things don’t work out, and on terrible days and when death comes. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
The job of the shepherd is to guard the lives of the sheep. And that is good news for us. We are the sheep. Jesus the good shepherd stands with us. There is no instant cure to those things the hurt and destroy but there is the assurance that we are not alone. Jesus reminds us daily, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Amen.