On Wednesday the holy season of Lent begins our long yearly journey towards Calvary and Easter. We call it a “journey” not only because it takes over seven weeks to complete, but because it begins a long way from its destination.
We begin Lent with the ashes of death. Death is one of the few things in life that we can be certain about. It is also one of the few things in life which everyone shares in. The manner and the timing of our deaths may differ, but the fact that our lives come to an end in this world is unavoidable for us all. Yet, strange to say, death is not originally part of God’s plan for us. Death, St. Paul tells us, came into the world through one man: Adam. It was Adam’s disobedience to God’s command that brought about death, as God had warned in Genesis 2:17. So the words which we will hear on Wednesday as the ashes are put on our foreheads were first said by God to Adam on that very day that Adam sinned: “Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19).
Yet after the disaster of the Fall, God did not abandon Adam and all mankind, his doomed descendants. Instead, God promised to send a Saviour. That is the story of Our Lord: of His Incarnation, His ministry, His death and resurrection. Christ Our Lord took the sins of the whole world upon Himself at His baptism. He then carried them with Him onto the cross, and they were killed there with Him. His death, freely accepted, was the means of taking away our death.
Even so, despite that, we still have to die. Yet even though death is not taken away from us at the end of this life, its meaning and its final outcome are utterly changed by Christ’s death. We are not condemned to everlasting death and darkness, because Christ has shattered death by His resurrection. This is why St. Paul can say to the Corinthians: “Death is swallowed up in victory...O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15: 55).
This is the background to the drama of our Lenten journey— from the despair of death which sin has brought upon us, to the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, in which we can share by taking part in this Lenten journey. That is why our Lenten destination is Calvary, and beyond Calvary stands...eternal life! Christ has dealt with us most respectfully and lovingly in associating us with His death and resurrection. ~ Fr. Paul Dobson