Scripture: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b–6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Apparently there’s this application for your smartphone called WeCroak. Five times a day, at completely random times, it will remind you: Don’t forget, you’re going to die.
Ash Wednesday is the church’s equivalent of WeCroak. Remember, one day you will die: your body will stop working for one reason or another and you will be returned to the earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Now, I do not have this application, WeCroak, on my own phone. I ran across it in an article that someone named Matt Fitzgerald had written about his experience using the application: Five times a day–while he was drinking coffee in the morning, just before a meeting, just before he went to bed–random times, in other words, this notification would pop up on his phone: Don’t forget, you’re going to die.
He found these reminders to be changing how he lived: he noticed the beauty outside his window, for life is fleeting. He didn’t yell at his son when he didn’t do the dishes, because who wants their kids to remember them as someone who was angry all the time? He listened to criticism rather than defending himself, because there are more important things than everyone knowing you’re right all the time.
In other words: when he remembered his own approaching death at least five times a day, he realized that some things were more important than others. Taking time to notice beauty and be with his family and be kind to others are all important things. Sometimes they just get lost in the urgency of now, of our to do lists or punctuality or what our own egos.
And that’s what all of our Scripture for tonight are about: what’s really important. We’re told in Scripture, over and over and over, to love one another in tangible ways and to worship the Lord our God. And Jesus and Joel and the psalmist are all reminding us: that’s what’s important. Not who sees you do it, or how visibly you do it, or how much it makes people like you, or doing it the “right” way. But the act of loving people, or praying, of worshiping: all of those are important. Those, too, are the things that are urgent–that our approaching death reminds us are important and worth doing, that we should be doing.
Later in his article, Matt Fitzgerald talks about when this app, WeCroak, finally fell flat for him. He was at a funeral of someone he knew and loved, and seeing the grief of the family made him realize–death isn’t something to accept. It’s not something we inoculate ourselves against feeling and grieving. As Christians, we believe that death is a scar on the world, a wrong that God will one day put right. And Ash Wednesday isn’t about reminding us we’re going to die so that we can go out and live our best lives. It’s a time to grieve: the wrongness of death as well as our own sin, our own failings and struggles to follow God. It’s a time to remember Jesus’ words to love one another for the sake of loving, and to realize all the ways we fall short.
And also: we will end this service with communion, as always, because death does not have the final word. Our sin does not have the final word. God does. Death is worth remembering, and grieving, and fighting against, often by living well and fully today. But death is not the final word. Death is not the end. God is–God is the beginning and the end.
We begin Lent by reminding ourselves of death and sin, so that we can rejoice all the more on Easter morning: God has defeated sin and death! We will live through Jesus Christ our Lord!
May we hold that truth. May we love and worship. And may we always know that God is with us on the path.