Ash Wednesday

I am so tired of death. 

A dear soul died today and I have not been able to stop my tears. Why him? Why his family? Why is cancer the decider of life and death?  I am so damn tired of cancer. I am so tired of death. 
Really? Dying at 50? What kind of God lets that happen over and over again? And to good people none the less? I loved David Lipscomb; he made my world more beautiful with his sparkly blue eyes, contagious passion, and authentic kindness. He was the manager for our friends in The Afters and a dear friend and mentor to many in the Christian music industry. And today he left us. 
Songs and Anger
I went to the Ash Wednesday service angry.   
And what do you know, the whole service is about death. Of course it is.
As I knelt at the alter to receive the ashes on my forehead the pastor looked me in the eyes and said, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." 
I wanted to scream at him. How insensitive. He clearly didn't know I was actually dealing with a real death. 
We sing a song... The Lord is kind and merciful. He is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger, full of kindness. 

No He's not.  I feel myself battling demons. God does not seem kind today. Or merciful. I'm just angry.
We sing another song. 
And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on.  
Stop with the death already. Just stop. Don't keep talking about it. 
And another song. 
Here is love vast as the ocean, loving kindness as the flood. 
When the Prince of Life, our ransom, shed for us His precious blood. 
Who his love will not remember? Who can cease to sing his praise? 
He can never be forgotten, throughout Heav'n's eternal days. 

The prince of life shed for us his precious blood. This stopped my thoughts.  
I read something in my book (Great with Child) that has been sitting with me for a few weeks now. In reference to the old hymns that talk about the "blood of Jesus" and the spoken words before communion "This is the blood of Christ, shed for your sins," author Debra Reinstra said, 
"These days I squirm when I hear people speaking of the Christian faith as pretty much amounting to following in the footsteps of a hardworking ancient Near Eastern social activist, or to counterbalance the myriad unpleasantness of life with the winsomeness of love. I want to yell out, "But what about the blood!"'
I read this chapter after two straight weeks of Bible studies that dealt with Old Testament sacrifice and blood.  Today, my pastor sent an email telling us that he was going to say his final good-byes to his dying dad. My Mamaw is in the hospital getting closer and closer to death. A 16 year old kid was buried this past week in a small town that we played in. And more than ever I am keenly aware of my own physical flesh and bones, my frailty. I found myself staring as the nurse took six tubes of blood from my arms last week. Staring at the blood. It seems to be everywhere these days. 
Blood. Sacrifice. Death. Death is everywhere. And if it's not making me angry, it is usually filling me with sadness. None of that, "Yippee, my good friend is in heaven now!" Just anger and sadness and confusion. 
But God is no stranger to death. Maybe that is what I am learning. Nothing terribly profound since it is the most elementary part of our faith... the death and resurrection of Jesus. Still, right now it seems all new to me.  
Not everyone will marry, but everyone will die. Not everyone will be a mother, but everyone will die. Not everyone will be _________, but everyone will die. You get the point. Death is universal, one of the only things that is. Death and taxes, right? 
Death, taxes, and life that is. 
We can relate to death because we have also been given life. One would not mean much without the other. And God uses this to relate to us. He sends Jesus. A baby. A new life. A new creation. And we know how to relate to that. It's one of the most beautiful things in the world, a tiny little infant that went from being nothing and turned into something that could breath, kick, move, think, and grow. 
And then there's death. And we know that all too well. We know the pain, anger, and confusion. 
And perhaps this is the best way for God to relate to ALL of mankind. The common denominator. This is why Jesus did not magically appear but was born, given life, and then also died. Life and death. 
In both birth and death, there is blood. Blood reminds me of pain and suffering. But one of the girls in my bible study group who is a doctor said..."yeah, but blood is also life. It's the one essential to the body. It gives us oxygen, pumps through our veins to make our bodies work, we must have blood to function." And I suppose she has a point! In a few weeks, when blood flows from my body, it will be because of a new life...not a death. 
So what about the blood? 
We don't like to go there. I mean, no one wants to exploit "the blood of Christ" to scare people into Christianity. No one wants to use human death to scare souls into salvation. And no one wants to think about a bloody, battered Jesus. A sacrificial lamb. A slaughter of something innocent and fully alive. But the truth is, blood and death and guts are all a part of it. Without blood, He was just a good guy. Without a sacrifice, a huge sacrifice, there was no way for me to go before God. Without death I could not have life. And in the midst of church culture that likes to sugar coat everything with fancy buildings, coffee shops, great programs, and series of sermons about our sex life and finances, I sort of want to scream the same thing.
What about the blood? 
We know how bad death hurts. We know grief. Though we do not talk about it like they did in the old testament when slaughtering and sacrificing animals was part of the average, family fun Saturday...we know cancer, disease, and loss. We know the meaning of blood. (But gosh we never talk about it.) 
God knows the meaning too. He is no stranger to death. 
As we enter into the season of Lent we make room in our hearts and our lives to come face to face with the death of Christ. But we also make room to celebrate His resurrection. Life and death. Death and life. 
Does it make the loss of our friend any easier today? No, not right now in this moment. But another taste of the pain of death only reminds me that someone chose to die for me a long time ago so that I could really have life. Because blood is real. And death is terribly final. But death is only part of the story. 
For every existed first. They are beautifully, painfully intertwined and they are the context for the way in which God chose to relate to us. 
Life. Blood. Death. Sacrifice. You can't have one without the other. We say good-bye but we welcome new life. And while new life is so much fun and so enchanting (if you don't believe me, please visit this blog again in a few months when the pages will run wild with adorable baby pictures) death cannot be ignored. 
And this is the time to go reflect a bit on death. When we appreciate the serious pain of death, then, and only then, can we truly know the sacrifice that was made for us to have life.
I said it last year and I will say it again. Welcome to the Holy Season of Lent.