Ash Wednesday was this week which marks the first day of Lent. When I was a kid, I really didn't get the whole Lent thing. There was always the thing about giving something up for Lent. I tried giving up homework, but that didn't get me very far.
When I was really young, we were LCA (Lutheran Church in America) and we didn't do this kind of stuff on Ash Wednesday. Oh sure, we changed all the pulpit hangings to purple, but that was about it as far as I remember. Getting smudged with ashes wasn't part of it. When I started going to the Episcopal Church in 1975, we definitely did the ash smudging thing and I thought it was interesting, but I still didn't really get into the whole feeling of Lent.
I think it all hit home for me in 2004 - the year I turned 40. Not that turning 40 made me suddenly get all penitential or anything. It was Ash Wednesday in 2004 when I opened up my e-mail in the morning to the news that a childhood friend had died. She was the daughter of the pastor who baptized my younger sister ... and she was 40 too. She died of a heart attack. I was shocked and the reality that a peer of mine had succumbed to what I thought of as an "age related" illness was sobering. It was in that moment I realized that I was going to start losing friends more to illnesses than accidents ... a moment of facing my own mortality.
Shortly after receiving this news, my father called with more bad news: my sister had been fired from her job. She'd had an incident which should have resulted in a notice to her personnel file, but instead she was fired. Her boss was looking for a reason to fire her, and one came up. My sister appealed it and we heard the appeals board was in favor of her reinstatement; however, at the last minute, the board had it's empowerment rescinded and the management upheld her dismissal. It was unjust.
Death and injustice crashed into me that Ash Wednesday morning and that's when I got it. We are not God and we will die ... period. Unjust things will happen to us in our lives. Jesus knew this: he was set up too. But in both cases, death and injustice, God gets the last word. It's a word of life and of righteousness.