"Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey's end. But we know that it will be a road of boundless mercy." Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Just one year ago (almost to the day) I was diagnosed in the ER with Shingles.  It started out in my left ear canal and traveled along the nerves of my jaw.  I have known many that have had to deal with Shingles, but never in my worst dream did I ever imagine the pain and discomfort that accompanies Shingles.  Then 10 days later, the nation began the painful shut down that forced everyone to self-isolate because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is in these moments, so many are not able to find hope. Joy becomes a distant dream.  We begin to reflect and ask, “where is God in all of our suffering?”

Just 2 weeks ago on Ash Wednesday, we were marked with a cross from ash.  We heard the words, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return."  We are reminded that sitting in ashes was a sign of both mourning and repentance in biblical times. Lent is a time to recognize our mortality and cultivate a penitent heart. These are somber tasks.

One of my New Year resolutions was to re-read some of the books that I read during seminary (in particular the books that had particular impact for me).  I came across a highlighted quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from The Cost of Discipleship, "Discipleship means joy." Joy in the midst of our sorrowful penitence? How can living into Lent be joyful? 

As we continue this Lenten journey, the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow catches my attention. This time in Lent is an in-between place. We are betwixt and between, neither here nor there. We have left behind what was, and what will be is not yet clear. We come face to face with the reality of our lives: things done and undone, fears, hopes and dreams, sorrows and losses, and the unknown.

While Jesus is being baptized, we heard God declare, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  In our baptism, we hear God claiming us also.  Then we read about Jesus calling his disciples friends. I can’t help but think that there is that same declaration, that same closeness to which we are called to follow Jesus as a companion with Immanuel, God with us.  It is so very humbling and appealing.  Our hearts say, "YES! I will follow."  As easily as it is to say “yes”; do I really understand the cost of following Jesus?

In his book, Bonhoeffer lays out what he understands the cost of discipleship to be. For him, it meant returning to Germany during WWII to work with the Resistance to the Third Reich.  Ultimately, it cost him his life.

Still, there is evidence of in joy Bonhoeffer's life right up to his last day in a concentration camp. As we enter this Lenten journey, we are reminded that we are ashes and dust.  We enter a place where we are called both to remember our sin and mortality, and at the same time to hear Jesus, God with us, saying follow me, my friend.  We embody living ash, we are reminded that following Jesus leads us to the cross.  Yet we are told to expect joy in this journey. 

Remember that you are dust and may you have joy in the journey!

Servants together,

Pr. Paul <><

p.s. – Did you know??  The past 4 or 5 years, we have entered into ecumenical worship with our sisters and brothers in Christ in the community.  Traditionally, we have had Wednesday night Soup Suppers, but due to Covid that will not be possible this year.  We will however be worshipping together via Zoom.  So, what I would like to propose is that you fix your favorite bowl of soup at home and join us in worship for an “At Home – Soup Supper & Worship.”  I will be inviting our usual partners at Eckert Presbyterian and Cedaredge United Methodist.  Please check the calendar and make plans to join us.  What a wonderful time it is to be Living Ash.

p.s.s. - Did you know that Luther said. . . . ???  “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”