Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Remember O man, thou art dust,

and unto dust thou shalt return. So was the curse that was pronounced on the human race in Eden, as the consequence of original sin. And scripture teaches also, 'vanity of vanity, all is vanity!' The sprinkling of ashes is a stark reminder of the transitory nature of our existence, and of the fact that no matter how rich, powerful and successful we may be in this life, death will end everything, for we have no home on earth. Sic transit mundi gloria.

So does this mean that all human endeavour is futile, and as Christians we should make no effort in life and on earth? No, for that is the real attitude of our contemporary unbelieving world. Modernity knows perfectly well that death will end everything, and consequently this leads to a choice of two paths. Some live as if life was everything and death did not exist: to maintain the illusion people will inevitably reject reality and flee into fantasy, drugs and alcohol, and ultimately despair and self-destruction. Others fully acknowledge and accept the apparent futility of life, which ultimately leads them to bitter nihilistic protest against life and the human condition: manifest in the creeds of Nazism, Communism and Islamism.

But what should we do, us who have faith in the resurrection of the body, which this great season is a preparation for? The answer is to use this passing world and all its pleasure and pain as a means for our sanctification and ultimate salvation. The great and wonderful art, architecture and music of the church is the fruit of this endeavour, not to mention the great Western civilisation that surrounded it. Only by focusing entirely on our future glory can life have meaning and purpose, can we be happy in this world, and be happy in the next. The ashes that we receive today are the preparation for the creation of the civilisation of love on earth, and the wedding feast of the lamb in heaven.

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