Note: During the season of Lent, I will be publishing a devotional on this blog titled “Surprised by Grace,” in which I will write about my efforts to look for grace in unexpected places.
Today, I told a bunch of people that they were going to die. I wasn’t nasty about it; in fact, most of them we eager to hear the reminder. I told older people who have been struggling with cancer, younger people who have recently lost their parents, and little children who barely understand what death is. This is, of course, the Church’s custom on Ash Wednesday, a day when we are reminded of our mortality and our complete dependence on God’s grace.
There is unexpected grace in this reminder of our mortal nature, because just after we are told that we are going to die, we are invited to go out and live. More importantly, we are invited to go out and live with the understanding that we will someday die. There is no way of getting around it. While this may seem depressing, it is actually intended to be empowering. If we live our lives with an awareness of our mortality, all of our ultimately futile efforts to preserve our lives become silly. This is the genesis of Jesus’ admonition in Matthew’s gospel: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our cultural preoccupation with wealth and security, our willingness to do anything to protect what we own crumbles in the face of the undeniable reality that our lives will someday end.
When we embrace this fundamental truth, it becomes clear that there is nothing of which we have to be afraid. If we go through life with an awareness of our mortal nature, we are liberated to try new things, to care for people who cannot provide us with anything, to risk being embarrassed or hurt. In other words, when we embrace our mortal nature, we no longer have to fear failure. In so many ways, this is what characterized the ministry of Jesus. He refused to worry about what people thought about the fact that he ate with tax collectors and sinners. He refused to be intimidated by touching someone with leprosy. He refused to run away when it became clear that his ministry would end in death. Jesus refused to fear failure. During this season of Lent, I invite you to try new things, take risks, and embrace the fundamental truth that, by God’s grace, we have nothing to fear.