Marble, Soap, Dust

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days in the church calendar. Now, that may seem rather morbid, considering that it's a day to remember our mortality. But my appreciation doesn't stem from a strange fascination with death, but is rather prompted by the beautiful paradox that it is. Yesterday evening I - Pastors Jim and Paul - had the opportunity to impose ashes on the foreheads of members of our community, declaring,

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Those words were  said countless times all over the world yesterday, recalling the result of sin in Genesis 3. Those words offer us an opportunity to remember our mortality, that our earthly lives will come to an end. Paradoxically, as we imposed ashes last night, we made another statement right after:

But in Jesus Christ, you have eternal life.

It’s paradox isn’t it? A beautiful paradox. Now, this isn’t a contradiction, where neither of these statements can be true. It’s a paradox, where both of them are true, at the same time. In 2nd Corinthians 5.17, the Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

Of course, there’s a lot more in that chapter that is worthy of our study, but, for a moment, reflect very simply on that one verse. Notice that Paul doesn’t say the old is going, the new will come. No, he says the old has gone, the new has come. Which, if we're honest with ourselves, doesn't really seem like the case. Whether we're looking at our own lives or the world around us, it doesn't often seem like a lot of newness is breaking forth.

So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday? What does this have to do with remembering that we are dust, and to dust we will return? What does this have to do with the good news that through Jesus we can have eternal life?

To answer, we have to recall what Ash Wednesday kicks off: The season of Lent. No, not lint – the stuff you’ve gotta clean out of the dryer – lent. Lent is the season of the year when we ask ourselves, really honestly, how we’re doing on our journey of faith. Lent is an opportunity to deny ourselves something – or maybe, try out some new spiritual practice – as we journey toward the cross of Christ, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday (because the rumor is that the grave empty).

You may have seen Michelangelo’s David and heard the story surrounding it. It started with an 18 foot high block of marble that had been damaged by a sculptor named Simone da Fiesole. Jerry Seinfeld would say “Fiesole!” while gritting his teeth and shaking his fist. Other artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, turned down the marble block because of the way Fiesole had damaged it.

But Michelangelo didn’t see the damage caused by Fiesole. He saw David:

Marble David

Or, take the recent book Drops Like Stars, which reveals what happens when you invite a bunch of artist friends over to your home and handed them a bar of soap (click for larger image):

Soap Now, a bar of soap is different from a marble block, no doubt: It’s much more soft and malleable.

Lent reminds us that we're like that marble block: We’re damaged, we’re not who we’re supposed to be. And we’re like those pieces of soap: Soft and malleable. And if we’re not careful, we can be reformed and remade in ways that look quite unlike followers of Jesus.

And therein lies the beauty of Lent: It is a time to reflect upon and recognize the ways in which we need to be reformed and remade in the image of the Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord of all. Because he looks at us in spite of the ways we’ve been damaged. And he looks at us in spite of the ways we’ve been formed by our brokenness. And he reforms and remakes us in His image, and as we engage in fasting or other spiritual disciplines, we're essentially handing over the chisel.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

May Lent be a time that we trust in this Jesus, to  carve out the new creation that is bursting forth right here in the midst of the old. So that as we gather Easter Sunday morning, we will rejoice in resurrection life, not only because Jesus has been raised, but because we are being raised too.

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1 Comments

Dmitry on March 5th, 2013 at 5:43am

As Paul reached the end of his life, he could look back and know he had been fhtaiful to God's call. Now it was time to pass the torch to the next generation, preparing leaders to take his place so that the world would continue to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Timothy was Paul's living legacy, a product of Paul's fhtaiful teaching, discipleship, and example. Because of Paul's work with many believers, including Timothy, the world is filled with believers today who are also carrying on the work. What legacy will you leave behind? Whom are you training to carry on your work? It is our responsibility to do all we can to keep God's Good News alive for the next generation.-LASB