As a Lenten practice during this season, clergy and leaders in the church from youth to elders will be sharing their devotions.
Scripture: Numbers 26:63-65
Key verse: (65a) For the LORD had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.”
Reflection: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Today is Ash Wednesday and some version of those words will be said again and again today. We begin the season of Lent, our journey with Christ toward the cross and then on to the empty tomb, by remembering our own mortality.
Some of us have become acutely aware of our mortality. We have heard a frightening diagnosis. We have watched a loved one take a last breath. We have felt the panic of chest pain or of not being able to catch our breath. Others of us know intellectually that we are mortal but we haven’t faced it yet. We go through our days somewhat oblivious to that reality, avoiding any conversation about death and dying, and denying any grief or loss we experience. Still others of us function as emotionally immortal. We can do anything, taking any risks and assuming we are invincible.
We are mortal. We all die. Every day is one day closer to death. And yet we live today. As people of faith, we are reassured that in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God knows the reality of death. And in the resurrection, God has defeated death. We are mortal but death doesn’t have the final word.
In today’s reading from Numbers, we are reminded that the slaves who were delivered from slavery in Egypt died in the wilderness and did not enter the Promised Land. A new generation of people entered the land. This was seen as a consequence for their disobedience on the wilderness journey. One generation, the slaves, moved from slavery to freedom, from the reign of Pharaoh to the reign of God. Yet it would be their descendants who would make the next move, from wilderness to Promised Land, from a nomadic life to the established life of the nation of Israel. This is the reality of our lives. Each generation moves forward, but none arrive at the promised perfection of God’s kingdom. Each generation experiences the power of God at work, but none experience the fullness of God’s heavenly presence. We give thanks today for the generations who have gone before us, with their faithfulness and with their mistakes. May we learn from them. And we acknowledge that we too are mortal, with our faithfulness and with our mistakes. We are dust and to dust we shall return.
Prayer: Almighty God, you despise nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who trust in you. Create in us new and contrite hearts, that truly repenting of our sins, and acknowledging our brokenness, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our redeemer, we pray. Amen.
(prayer adapted from the PCUSA Book of Common Worship, service for Ash Wednesday)
Author: Millie Snyder
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].