The cycle that can't die

Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of Christ, our way.  Amen.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the collective trauma we all experienced on September 11, 2001.  That gleaming day, turned mortally gray, will live forever as a day of death.

In the years since then – now, shockingly, coming up on 21 years – I’ve reflected so often on how we, as a people, suffered a shared trauma.  In the moments that followed, we came together, united by a drive to heal the hurt.  But, sadly, that was only a moment.  And after the moment passed, the hurt endured.  Raising flags together, singing songs together, recognizing our shared experiences – they could only take us so far.  And, in the end, it wasn’t far enough to heal.  Not to really heal.

We all experience pain in our lives.  That’s normal.  It’s even sometimes healthy.  Pain can help us to learn value.  Pain can help us to appreciate and to strive for preservation.  But the difference between pain and trauma is our ability to cope.  We can grow through pain, but trauma cuts deeper.

I’ve been thinking about that, because, since the last time we met to consider our mortality – to remember that we are dust, and that we are destined to return to the dust – since then, we’ve watched nearly a million people die from a global pandemic, just here in our own country.  If we turn our sights to the kind of global view of the neighbor that Jesus directs us to, we see that nearly 6 million of our neighbors have died from this disease.

September 11th, 2001 was a life-changing, history-turning day.  But when it’s seen in the light of our collective loss over these past two years, it could almost seem quaint that we were once so gravely changed by such a comparably small loss.

Of course, “small” is relative.  If it’s our own loss, it almost never feels small.  And whenever we face these life-changing moments in our lives, one of the most shocking things to realize is that life keeps going on.  Even while we grieve; even while we try to heal (and sometimes fail to heal), people’s lives keep moving forward.  Other losses, great and small, keep cycling through our lives.  And other gains, too.  People keep getting married.  People keep being born.  People find new faith in God, and people lose their faith altogether.  People laugh and cry and laugh so hard that they cry and cry so hard that there’s nothing left to do but laugh.

Even in the midst of the greatest traumas we can imagine, the world keeps turning.  Energy keeps being captured and turned into matter, and matter keeps breaking back down into energy.  The cycle never ends and it never dies.

And though we are dust, and our destiny is dust again, we are a part of that cycle.  We will die.  Every one of us.  But we are a part of the cycle that can’t die.

In this season when we prepare for both the death of Jesus and new life in Christ, those are the two things that most directly connect us with this story and with our faith: like Jesus, we will die.  We are dust, and to dust we will return.  And like Christ, we are a part of a cycle that can’t die.  Life will go on.  Through pain and trauma and grief, life will keep going on.  Through joy and celebration and growth, life will keep going on.

We can’t know – at least not yet – how this latest season of trauma and loss will affect us in the years to come.  That’s something that we can only know through living.  But what we can know, and what we do know, is that through it all, life will keep going on.

Remember.  Remember.  Remember.

This isn’t a prediction, it’s a reminder.  Remember that you are dust.  Remember that the cycle reaches farther than you can imagine, and that you will be there.  Amen.