Tag Archives: Lent

Ash Wednesday: When Darkness Reigns

“It is appointed once for a person to die. After this the judgment.” -Hebrews 9:27

“But this is the hour—when darkness reigns.” -Jesus

The Orvillecopter by Dutch artist Jansen flies in central Amsterdam as part as the KunstRAI art festivalIf you haven’t already seen this story from last year, then I’m sorry to do this to you. Because you can’t unknow this.

Last year, Bart Jansen woke up to find his long-time pet cat “Wilbur” was dead. And that was unacceptable for Mr. Jansen. So he did what anyone of us would do: He turned his dead pet into a helicopter.

He combined the fine art of taxidermy and small engine motors. And now Wilbur had been given wings…

As a preacher, I’ve done a lot of funerals and one of the things that I’ve noticed is how uncomfortable most people are during these times. I think it’s the same reason Bart put wings on his dead cat, or why the taxidermy industry exists at all. We don’t like to be reminded of death, and funerals are the reminder of the ultimate reality that we can’t escape.

And this is precisely why we need moments like Ash Wednesday.

Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound like something just for Catholics. And I get that. Growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect.

But Ash Wednesday was going on long before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years It’s when we remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.  It is profoundly ancient and biblical.

Think about Job for a second. Do you remember what Job does when he hears the news about his family tragically dying? He covers himself in ashes.

We are all Job

In his famous sermon on the book of Job, Jonathan Edwards pointed out that all of our stories will one day be like his. Sure Job lost everything in one day while most of us experience these losses more slowly. But rest assured one day each of us will be on the door of death, leaving everything behind.

James Stockdale was a war-hero and POW during the Vietnam war. He had lived through the underbelly of the human condition and wound up becoming an admiral, and eventually ran with Ross Perot for the Vice-President. When they asked him about the other POW’s who didn’t survive he always said the same thing:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.  They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’  And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go.  Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter’ And then Easter would come and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas again.  One by one, they died of a broken heart.”

I understand why we want to ignore death, why we pretend it’s something that just happens to other people. But there is a reason that the church has practiced Ash Wednesday for so long. Because eventually optimism is really hard to keep someone’s faith going.Funny Tombstone

Eventually, even the most die-hard of optimist is going to realize that the world is too broken, and too evil to just be more positive. And the worst part, is that in our more honest moments we know that evil is in our own hearts as well.

Our biggest Temptation is to try and withdraw from the suffering of the world, and most of us are “fortunate” enough to  have enough money and resources to do it. We can get a botox here and a tuck there to make it look as if we aren’t really dying. But this goes against the grain of the Gospel.

There’s a time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus has been arrested, he’s headed to die, and one of the only phrases he says is “Now is the hour When Darkness Reigns.” I like that sentence. Because Jesus could have stopped this whole thing, and skipped the pain.  He could have ignored the suffering of the world, but instead he acknowledged that there was darkness in the world, and there are days when it seems like the darkness is winning.

This is at the heart of Ash Wednesday. It’s when the Church willingly enters into and acknowledges that All is not right with the World.

The End of The Story

You know, we hear stories about guys so attached to their cat that they put wings on them and pretend they didn’t die, and we think they’re crazy. But I would argue we do the same thing everyday. Our country spends over $20 Billion dollars a year on cosmetic surgery. We pretend death is just a dream.

Which is a bit like putting wings on a stuffed cat, and pretending it can fly.

So back to James Stockdale, he said the optimist never made it in the POW camps, but then they would ask about him. How did you survive? And he said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into a defining event of my life, which, in retrospect I would not trade.”

There is a difference between moping and mourning. There is a difference between whining and bearing in the suffering of the world, and there is a difference between optimism and hope.

Hope is looking darkness squarely in the face and saying Now may be your hour, but you will not rule the day.

Hope is choosing to have faith that the end of the story is going to make all the loss make sense.

Optimism wants to avoid the funeral, Hope can’t wait for Easter.

It is from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

But if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that God can do a lot with dust.

Memento Mori

So when I was a junior in college, Leslie, some friends, and I got a chance to study in and travel around Europe. One of the last stops on our trip was in Rome. It’s by far my favorite city in the world, it was like stepping into a giant museum that doubled as a city. Everywhere you went there were places that were rich with Christian history. Catacombs that the earliest Christian martyrs were buried in. Great statues, that were hundreds of years old, done by incredible artists littered the street. St. Peter’s and the Vatican had the Sistene Chapel and the bones of the man who walked on water with Jesus.

But by far, the most disturbing, and memorable stop in that city was the Capuchin Crypt. It was a monastery that began in the early 17th century. And it was filled with art, but the art was made of the bones of the monks who had died there.

It was a little dark.

Actually, it made Saw IV look like Bambi. And at first we didn’t get it. It was so morbid and disorienting. Our tour guide explained that after a monk would die, they would keep his body buried for 30 years, just long enough for the body to fully decompose. And then they would exhume him and use his bones to add to the sculptures. And the question we were asking was, “Why would anyone ever do this?”

It was by far the darkest hour of our time abroad…and we had toured Aushwitz. Toward the end of the tour we came to a room filled with 3 very dead, yet fully dressed monk skeletons, and there was a placard right in the center of them. It simply read, “What you are we once were, what we are you soon will be.”

Needless to say, we chose not to buy anything from the giftshop.

So we are entering into the end of Holy Week. It’s the time when Christians all over the world are remembering what Jesus has done and is doing in the world. When we remember that Jesus laid down his life on the Cross. It’s when we remember when God died.

And the temptation, like always is to rush ahead in our minds to Easter, to try and push ahead past all the grief and suffering that we try to ignore so much. But historically the Church has refused to let us do that. Throughout the ages, the Church hasn’t just celebrated Easter, it’s also emphasized Good Friday. It’s forces us to remember that death is also a part of the story of God. It’s just not the final chapter. Continue reading Memento Mori

Painting in Black

So last night at Highland we observed Ash Wednesday, it’s my second time to participate in something like this, and my second time to speak at something like this. One day I look forward to going and getting to hear someone else do it. But I love doing things like this. It’s no secret that the younger generations appreciate more and more the ancient aspects of our faith, but it was a joy to watch people from all generations participate in this ancient tradition. And so, in that spirit, I’d like to post some of the thoughts from last night.

Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound a bit too Catholic. And I totally get that, growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect. My parents wouldn’t even let me be friends with girls named Mary.

But Ash Wednesday is different, because it was going on a long time before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It is profoundly ancient and biblical. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years, just like the people in the Bible like Job or the King of Ninevah. We put ashes on, and mourn. We mourn our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. We remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.

And there’s a reason why we need cadences like this in our lives.

God knows us, he knows that we can try to trick ourselves into believing that death isn’t going to happen to us.The world doesn’t know how to respond to our mortality. And the symbol of ashes is a powerful reminder of our weakness, morally and physically. We are broken creatures. And the ash reminds us of what we tend to forget. That we live under the shadow of death, the grave will not be denied.

We don’t know what to death, The Cosmetic Plastic Surgery industry will make somewhere around 18 billion dollars this year. Think about that number…We have made an industry out of pretending that we don’t age, that people don’t die. So we get a tuck here or a lift there, and underneath all of it is this inability to talk honestly about the way things are. About the way we are. Continue reading Painting in Black

A New Beginning

So this is one of the holiest times of the Christian calendar. It’s the season of Lent. You know it’s gotta be big because even Taco Bueno’s menu has altered for it. It’s a time of year that Jesus followers remember and the Passion of Jesus, and ultimately the Easter story.

So sometimes people give up Ice Cream, or Facebook, or complaining. For Lent this year, I gave up telling people what I gave up for Lent.*

But the whole purpose behind it, is to remind Jesus’ followers of their story. Of a God who moves things from darkness to light. And that when things seem the darkest, don’t write God off because He just might be up to something that no sees coming. And in that spirit, I wanted to post something that I found on CNN’s website last week. It’s a blog written by the (now) infamous Rob Bell about how he came to be a Pastor.

I wanted to post it because Resurrection isn’t just a moment that happened it is something that happens. Hope you enjoy!


One Friday evening in the fall of my senior year of college I got a headache.

I took some aspirin, laid on the couch, and waited for it to go away. But it didn’t; it got worse. By midnight I was in agony, and by 3 a.m. I was wondering if I was going to die.

As the sun rose, my roommate drove me to the hospital where I learned that I had viral meningitis. A neurologist explained to me that the fluid around my brain had become infected and was essentially squeezing my brain against the walls of my skull.

So that’s what that was. Continue reading A New Beginning