Au revoir, Epiphany Star. In a less than twenty-four hours, your light will depart from us as we usher in the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday services. We will let you go … but not without some kicking and screaming in the form of our Palm Burning efforts tomorrow night, Shrove Tuesday. For shortly after 7:00 p.m., for a couple of minutes, last year’s Palm Sunday palms will blaze in glory outside the main doors to the church, as we burn them to ashes, and prepare those ashes as marks for your foreheads … a sign of the solemnity of our Ash Wednesday discipline.
The palms we burn this year bring with them a different reminder of solemnity and austerity, then is usually the case. Because the vast majority of them never made their way out of the church building. They were never held in your hands … nor waved in the air of the sanctuary or FLC by children, as Hosanna’s were sung around them … nor repurposed into swords and weapons to be wielded against younger siblings once your family returned home from church. No these were orphaned palms … separated from families that would have cherished them … because a virus was, and still is, redefining many of the practices and traditions that give shape and substance to our public faith life.
Try as it may, however, Covid-19 cannot redefine what resides in the hearts, souls and minds of you who are God’s children. Because while the ashes that will adorn our heads tomorrow will have different origins than the ashes of previous years … they will still quite ably remind us of our mortality. A mortality that is front and center for us every day, as we watch local, national and worldwide death tolls rise at the hands of this virus. And a mortality that may have been made incarnate for you in the death of a loved one due to Covid-19.
But a mortality that is different from the kind that visits our world every single day through hatred and warfare … though illness and age … through carelessness and intent. The mortality we embrace for the coming forty-day season of Lent is one that yokes us to our Lord Jesus, and his death … and thus also binds us to the hope of Easter and the empty tomb of new life. Ours is a mortality that we do not fear, because Jesus awaits us at the end of this mortal journey that we take as pilgrims in this world of both brokenness and redemption. So yes … au revoir, Epiphany Star. In a less than twenty-four hours, your light will depart from us. But it will only be forty days (and a half dozen sabbaths God allows us for the journey) till we meet again at the empty tomb. No need to leave the front door light on … we know where we are going.