Death and Life: Ash Wednesday and Communion
One particular Tuesday in 1995 ruined my love for moon pies. I had loved them as a child. I was raised where moon pies are the local fan favorite, much like Tillamook ice-cream. They’re the perfect combo of chocolate, marshmallow and soft cookie yumminess. But then that fateful Tuesday happened. Fat Tuesday. Attending a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade in Alabama I caught —and ate—my weight’s worth of moon pies. Now they are dead to me.
That’s our culture’s introduction to Lent. A Fat Tuesday of all food and flesh indulgence before an entire season of dying to it all. It might not be a healthy start to a diet, but I give it credit as a cultural rhythm for the soul. It’s more fun to live with John 10:10 as a life verse, “I have come that you might have life and life to the full!” and live the epicurean lifestyle than it is to live by Romans 6:6 “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Death just isn’t as much fun as life.
But death is the way to life. Romans 6:8 continues, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” You could read straight into John, “And that life will be life, and life abundantly!” But the doorway into life is a passing through death. And so we practice Lent. We practice a season of death that we might live life more abundantly.
Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It’s the practice of church history to practice mini-deaths in order to remember the death of our sin and to prepare for the death of Jesus. Mini-deaths look like not eating moon pies. Seriously, though, they look like laying aside ways that we indulge our bodies— putting those to death— so that our spirit might find a little more room to commune with God and to truly live! It might not sound like fun initially— death isn’t fun— but it leads to a more abundant life.
This Wednesday, February 14, we will have a 30-minute service at 5:30 pm in the sanctuary to put ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross and to remember the death of our sin, a death that happened once and for all in the cross. And we’ll have the opportunity to present to Jesus a commitment to a mini-death for 40 days, something we want to give up, so that our souls might find more abundant life.
I find these symbolic actions really helpful. Ashes is something the church created. But another symbol is even more powerful for me, and it’s an action Jesus gifted to us to help us remember that passing from death to life. It's communion. During Lent we will be serving communion every Saturday night. It’s just bread and juice. But we ask Jesus that it might be for us his very presence. Communion is a reminder of his death, of his body broken and his blood poured out for us. His death was the gateway to our life and to the Spirit coming to live in us! So communion is just as much about life as it is death! As we say each time we serve communion, “We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.”
Death and life. The mysterious combo. The divine invitation.
I hope you’ll join us for Ash Wednesday, for communion Saturday nights, and for this season of remembering death so that we might remember that we have life, and life to the full.