Ash Wednesday Mass at Holy Innocents Parish in Duvall is held at 7 o’clock in the evening. It is always dark, always cold, usually rainy or snowy — and always a weeknight. Yet, after Christmas and Easter, that Mass is the best-attended event at our little parish. Standing-room only.
I come, pulled by force. Of what? This is not an occasion to show off my new outfit. There is no ringing of joyous bells or singing of joyous songs. Yet here I am on a cold dark night, in my work clothes, missing my favorite TV shows.
I am here to face death.
My death. Not a relative’s. Not a friend’s. Not even Jesus’ death, which I celebrate and contemplate as the centerpiece of my faith. No, for one day only, the church asks me to look my own death square in the eye. Hits me smack dab in the middle of the forehead with it.
My Christian brain has a hopeful view of death. Jesus conquered death! I look forward to the resurrection of the body and life everlasting! I know a lot of dead people, and they are in a better place, as they say. My mom plays bridge every day and wins.
The rest of my brain is not keen on my death. Maybe it’s the way our culture presents it. Other life events are hopeful: birth all pastels and bows, weddings white with bells and bubbles. Death is black. No hope.
I don’t want to admit to feeling bad about death. It seems like an admission that my faith is not as strong as it should be. On the days when my faith is particularly vibrant, I am OK with my life here ending, and my life in God’s kingdom beginning. I envision an amazingness that is beyond my envisioning.
But there is that nagging uncertainty about life here ending which is only a short hop away from fear. I don’t know where it comes from, but I know from looking around on Ash Wednesday that I’m not the only one who feels it. It’s scary, and black.
So every Ash Wednesday I give in to the blackness. I accept the smudge of death on my head and acknowledge the confusion in my two-sided brain. And I enter Lent, six weeks of reconciliation between the two. With God’s grace, my Christian brain grows stronger and I come to feel the hope of the Resurrection a little bit more this year than ever before.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Left behind on Ash Wednesday, I hope.
Northwest Catholic - January/February 2018