Here it is again . . . it sneaks up on us year after year. After the fanfare and feasting of Mardi Gras comes a season of simplicity and reflection. A season that begins with a mark that makes visible the intention to begin anew.
It comes at the best time, when we have begun to settle in the new year. When the rhythm of life seems to be returning. When nothing seems able to stop us, our hearts are asked to be broken and our masks removed. In some ways we are called to the essence of what it means to be human: life & death, God and each other!
We are also asked to turn from our ways. To stop being so self centered. To cease from our constant need to impress - believing the self deceptive thought that we have arrived. These ways of being cause a rift between us and the world, between the world and its creator. Turning around (repentance), takes an acknowledgement of our brokenness (sin).
It should not surprise us that we are asked to consider our death. Morbose as it might seem, it's something that all of us need to face. Mortality forces us to recognize our need for something beyond ourselves, beyond this life. Even more important, facing mortality makes us want to live better with more purpose and in communion with each other.
The mark on our foreheads is the mark of acknowledged humanity. We come recognizing ourselves as God's created people who are given the opportunity to begin again the journey of relationship, the journey of genuine humanness. This journey comes with its own set of relational practices. Prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor are the cornerstones of the Christian vocation. We are called to engage them as we were told to do at our baptism. As we practice them our lives our re-centered on the one who made us and gave us life.
The truth is that we are just beginning once again by recognizing our mortality. Our failure has been our neglect of the life that God promised us and the world. This life is one centered on the restoration of all of creation to the life of God. In this way we become participants of God's work of making all things holy.
This new beginning allows us to start with a clean slate. It helps us to refocus and give priority to those things that make us the good creation that God made. It also allows us to consider the example of Jesus and his constant call for humanity to be bearers of God kingdom here on earth. Our clean slate begins to get filled with the tools needed for redemption. The practices that we take on become the instruments of growing awareness of God's presence in us and in the world. The stories heard become part of who we are and turn us into story tellers of good news for the world!
Marked we are sent out, the mark cannot be ignored. We are beginning the journey of re-claiming God's story as our own, for the life of the world.