Shame on me, I had forgotten. Then I started seeing people with this strange charcoal smudge on their forehead. Is that a cross? Yes, of course, it’s Ash Wednesday. As a pastor I really should be more on top of these things.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the forty-day period in the church calendar known as Lent, a time of preparation leading up to Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday. Around the world, countless Christians will have the sign of the cross written on their foreheads in ash—what is known as the imposition of ashes—and will hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
That reminder, along with various self-imposed exercises in self-denial associated with Lent, like fasting or giving things up, is all about confronting our mortality. For the Christian that means remembering two important facts; (1) you are going to die, and (2) but no worries, because you will live again. Because of God’s grace, and Christ’s death and resurrection, death’s power over us, in this life as well as the next, is destroyed. And that’s great news.
The celebration of Lent, however, is in sharp contrast to where the 21st Century is headed. As Eric Metaxas put it, “Some leading entrepreneurs on the cutting edge of the tech world see their mortality and humanity not as realities to accept, but as hurdles to overcome.”
Enter billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder, Elon Musk, who puts the odds that we’re not living in a Matrix-like computer simulation at one in a billion. He believes it’s time for humans to merge with machines, or risk becoming irrelevant in the age of artificial intelligence.
Then there’s billionaire and PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel. He takes it a step further as a self-proclaimed “transhumanist,” Thiel says he hopes to achieve immortality by “uploading” his consciousness into a computer. Referring to death, Thiel remarked that “You can accept it, you can deny it, or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are in denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.”
So, you can join the Lent group – and deny yourself, in preparation of the celebration of Resurrection Sunday. Or, you can join the group that denies reality – the reality and the inevitability of death that is. You can, as Thiel says, “Fight it.”
I prefer the first group where life is sane and peaceful. I don’t want to live forever in this world because it’s messed up. I can accept death, knowing that He Who is the “resurrection and the life” has already defeated it. And I will live forever with Him because of it.
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19