By Sam Gutierrez
This Wednesday, February 17, Alger Park Church will join churches around the world in marking the beginning of the season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday worship service. One of the highlights of this unique service is the imposition of ashes, where people are marked with the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the words, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust". These words are a summary of the words from Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
And so, the season of Lent begins with a sobering tone.
These are hard words to swallow. The reality of our “dust-ness” can easily lead us to despair. Knowing that everything we do and say and accomplish will one day be forgotten can make some of us want to shrug our shoulders and whisper, “What’s the point of doing anything, then?” Others of us live much of our lives trying to overcome our “dust-ness” through work, with academic success, with the accumulation of things, or by having children--all in an attempt to do something that will last or to ensure our legacy will endure.
But the Scriptures point us in another direction. The secret to living a meaningful “dust filled” life is found in the ash-marking that happens on Ash Wednesday – the ashes spread on the forehead are not just an undefined smudge, but marked in the powerful symbol we recognize as the sign of the cross.
That is the secret. Christ became dust and died for us. We are not just dust…
We are beloved dust.
More than that, Jesus rose from the dust as a resurrected human with a new body that will never return to dust again. God promises that one day, God will raise our dusty bones from the grave and give us new, incorruptible bodies that will last forever. In and through Jesus, Genesis 3:19 gets an addendum. Just listen to what Paul tells the Corinthian church: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
Friends, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, but Lent does not last forever...it points the way to the quiet Sunday morning when Jesus overcomes death once and for all.
By Sam Gutierrez
When I was a kid, someone gave me some important instructions that came with a dire warning: Don’t stare directly at the sun or you will go blind.
This warning was usually followed up with a story about “some kid” on “some playground” that ignored the warnings and did just that – stared at the sun and is now suffering the lifelong repercussion of permanent blindness.
Of course, as a kid, you have to test this scary fact by looking at the sun for maybe 2 or 3 seconds… which seems ok until you close your eyes and see strange spots floating around on the back of your eyelids. For my little heart and mind – that was enough evidence to prove that playground warning to be true – staring at the sun will cause permanent blindness.
It’s true – energetic photons streaming from the sun’s surface even at an astounding distance of 91 million miles is just too powerful for our delicate eyes to handle. So, just imagine the scene in Matthew 17:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
This event is known as the Transfiguration of Jesus and is celebrated liturgically on the last Sunday in Epiphany – Transfiguration Sunday. Every year, we get the opportunity to walk up the mountain with the disciples and ponder this amazing event while asking the question, “What does this mean?”
Quite simply – the “transfigured” or “transformed” Jesus we see on the mountain top – human, but shining like the sun (glorified) is a glimpse of God’s end game for humanity – resurrected human beings – fully human and fully divine. Jesus is the first fruit (1st edition) of what is to come for the rest of humanity. Here is another way to put it: What happened on the mountain top was a short “preview” of a full length feature film that is coming soon to a theater near you!
Mountain tops are places of revelation. We travel with the disciples and catch a glimpse of who Jesus truly is – and in doing so, we catch a glimpse of who we are and who we are to become.
But notice what the text says in Matthew 17:9, “As they were coming down the mountain…” With Jesus, we come down from the mountain back into our cities and neighborhoods. As we continue to live our ordinary lives, we do so with an amazing hope – the story of the world has a very, very good ending!
So, this coming Sunday, go ahead and look at the SON – be blinded by his glorious light – and when you find yourself blind with hope, you’ll paradoxically discover that you see more clearly than ever before.