Into The Undying Light Of Love

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.’”

—The Gospel of John

We are lost.
Wolves are everywhere.
Before us and behind us.
To the left and the right of us.
Above and below.
There is no place where there are not wolves.
And they are ravenous.
They howl like a terrible storm.
Our power lines are down.
Trees tumble.
Limbs are broken.
The sky looks and sounds as if it is being torn to shreds.
Our green pastures are scorched.
The still waters have tidal waves.
And the wolves want more.
They want all of us.
Every bit of us.
We thought we were brave enough, smart enough, faithful enough.
What fools we were to wander off on our own.
The wolves are taunting us now.
‘Where,’ they ask, ‘is your good shepherd now? Ha! Nailed to a cross. Crucified. Dead and buried.’
We open our mouths to reply and that is when we hear your voice.
“I am their shepherd,” you say to the wolves. “Now and forever.”
And we are found. We are saved.
Goodness and mercy surround us.
You are before us and behind us.
To the left and to the right of us.
Above and below.
There is no place where you are not with us.
We feel weightless as you revive our souls, anointing our heads with oil. The howling is silenced and the sky is made whole.
The wolves vanish like shadows at noon.
With you by our side that is all they ever could be.
And nothing more.
We pass through them with you, Jesus, into the undying light of love.

The Human Touch Of Divine Grace

“Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.’”

—The Gospel of John

By Ken Woodley

Jesus wasn’t afraid of his wounds.
They plainly showed.
He did not try to hide them.
He points them out to his disbelieving disciples as proof that he has risen from the dead and that he is no ghost.
The disciples evidently believed that they were being haunted rather than visited by their risen Savior. That is why Jesus invites them to touch him, to touch his wounds, so that their haunted fears may vanish.
No, Jesus was not afraid of his wounds.
And he allowed others to touch them.
By touching his wounds, Jesus knew, his disciples would be healed of the raw anxiety that was so destructive to the life Jesus hoped they would live after his crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus offers us a great lesson.
Like Jesus, we should not be afraid of our wounds, either.
A wound is more than a cut, bruise or scratch, and all of us are wounded in some way. Nobody goes through life wound-free.
Some are wounded more deeply than others but there are no trivial wounds. Wounds are terribly real. For that reason it can be easy to be afraid of them, perhaps even ashamed. We want to hide them from others. Hide them from ourselves. Pretend they don’t exist.
But running from our wounds is not the path toward healing.
Instead, trying to escape leads to us feeling hunted and haunted by our wounds, just as the disciples were hunted and haunted by the wounding loss of Jesus in their lives when he was crucified. That escapist mentality makes the wound worse, not better.
No, we don’t have to parade our wounds around or make a big song and dance about them. There is no “Wound Olympics.” It’s not a competition.
But we do need to acknowledge them, believe that we can live with them and, crucially, be open to the way God can bring healing through the loving touch of others in our lives.
Because, so often, that is the way God reaches out to us. The way the risen Christ is able to anoint our heads with oil and restore our soul:
By bringing someone into our life who is not afraid of our wounds and who seeks, through loving compassion, to bring us healing.
But, the healing of wounds is a double-edge plowshare. Sometimes the effect of our own wounding empowers us to be effective healers of others. Sometimes the shape of our lives fits perfectly into the wound of someone else.
Therefore, just as we must not be afraid of our own wounds, we also must not fear the wounds of others. We must not be afraid to touch their wounds with God’s loving purpose that can, if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, have our fingerprints all over that touch of divine grace.
And, sometimes, when we reach out with that divine healing grace toward others, we find God reaching out to us through them. Our reach meets theirs and in that moment God’s love for us is made most profoundly manifest.
That is a truth worth embracing with all of our might.

When The Wilderness Is Real

There are very few true wildernesses left in the world. Certainly not within easy reach of me here in Appomattox County, Virginia. If Moses had to lead the Israelites to The Promised Land today, he’d have Siri, MapQuest and GPS technologies available to him. They’d cross the Jordan River with little delay.
So, relating to the prophet Isaiah’s wilderness passages might be harder for us than it was for someone in Jesus’ day.
“…I will make a way in the wilderness…” God promises in Isaiah. But we hardly ever need God’s help through physical places of wilderness in the world.
Looking down from this hillside at James River State Park, I see a wild profusion of trees, bushes, meadows, marshland and the bluff rising steeply above the opposite bank. There, too, is the river, itself, glimpsed in flowing snatches between the white-trunked trees. There is a feel of wilderness and the surrounding howl of coyotes last night emphasized that impression. But, then I turn around and see the cabins, the cars, and the paved roadway in the morning’s light.
And in my hand is a map of every trail through this slice of natural wonder 30 minutes down the road from my home. The trails are also well marked and blazed. If I forget the map, as I probably will, no grave problem will arise.
Still, I believe God’s promise. We all can believe it. God will make a way in the wilderness for us. And I know I need it.
The wildernesses most of us face in our lifetimes are those occasions that make us feel lost and alone. Whether it’s the loss of a job, an illness, the death of a loved one, a decision about where to go to college…or a difficult memory, life is full of wilderness moments that turn our mapped and modern world into a tangled maze.
Such occasions create wilderness feelings inside us and that is where we often get lost. Thankfully, God is there to help us through such times. “…I will make a way in the wilderness,” God promises me, and promises you.
As important as those eight words are, the words that come before them hold the key to following God out of the wilderness in which we are lost and wandering, especially if there is something deep in our lives that we find troubling, something perhaps even years ago that still creates coyote-howling wilderness moments in our otherwise orderly and civilized lives.
“Do not remember the former things,” God urges us, through the prophet’s writing, “or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Those are words that provide us with an internal and eternal map through our wilderness moments. They are words that blaze a trail to what is, in truth, a “promised land” that God offers us all, one that abounds with love and grace.
Don’t dwell on hurts and pains and sorrows, God is telling us.
Have faith in that new thing that God is about to do. Like the leaves budding on the trees and the daffodils dotting the landscape, what God promises will spring up—is springing up now, somehow, if we turn our minds from whatever wilderness has us in its grasp and discover, instead, the God-sent feeling that is springing up in our hearts and in our souls—springing up in that deepest part of ourselves.
God is marking the trail through our trials and tribulations. Let us each journey with faith in that guiding love and grace which leads us out of the wilderness by actually transforming the wilderness, itself, giving us rivers in the desert and turning the howl of coyotes into the sound of cooing doves of peace.

Happy April Fools’ Day

What fools we all are. All of us fell for the oldest April Fools joke on earth:
And, as if to rub it in, Easter is actually on April Fools’ Day this year. Perfect.
“Mary Magdalene found an empty tomb! Jesus has risen from the dead! He spoke to her!”
Sure. Happy April Fools’ Day. And it’s all just part of the most extravagant April Fools joke in the history of the world.
All that stuff Jesus taught: we should love each other, God is love, God loves us unconditionally.
What an April Fools’ Day joke that is.
I mean, really, who loves anybody unconditionally? Better check the New Testament, because there’s bound to be a prenuptial agreement in there somewhere with lots of conditions.
Well, actually ….
I did check the New Testament and there’s not a prenup in sight. So, you know what? If I’m going to be a fool for anyone—on April 1st or any day—it’s going to be for Jesus and what he taught us about God and love. A love that resurrects.
I believe that Mary Magdalene did see Jesus on Easter morning. If she’d been making it up, Mary would have said that she instantly recognized Jesus. But Mary told everyone that she first thought he was the gardener. That detail is compelling evidence. Her momentary confusion invites skeptics to say, “Hey, if it was really Jesus wouldn’t she have recognized him immediately?” For me, Mary’s admission rings with truth.
And I believe the disciples encountered Jesus in that upstairs room where they were hiding. For me, it’s the only possible explanation for their immediate U-turn from paralyzing fear after the crucifixion into taking the truth of Jesus’ resurrection out into the streets, even if it killed them. And it did eventually kill just about all of them.
So, something mind-blowing really did happen after the crucifixion. Of that, I am certain.
Do I believe every detail and story in the Bible? No. I was a journalist for 36 years and I know reporters can make factual mistakes. Even in same-day coverage, much less writing about something decades—or centuries—after it happened.
And that’s okay because the essential truth shines through when it comes to Jesus and his message of resurrecting love. It’s like stained-glass windows. They are broken pieces of glass but the light still tells their story.
I believe that Jesus did die for us. He could have run away from his certain date with crucifixion anytime he wanted to. He could have gone off with Mary Magdalene, married, had kids and been a happy carpenter.
But Jesus believed what God had told him as he grew into his messiah-ship while a young man before fully embracing that mission as a 30-year old.
And so he preached love until they nailed him to a cross. Fulfilling that mission was the only way he could reach us. Had he run away, he would have been swallowed by anonymity, along with his message.
But he died and he rose, as, I believe, all of us shall.
I’ve experienced the presence of the resurrected Jesus in my own life more than once. And I wonder … perhaps he really is a gardener after all, because I’ve felt unexpected petals unaccountably bloom inside me where I’d thought there were only weeds.
I don’t have to understand everything about Jesus. I can’t connect all of the dots. I don’t even know where all of the dots are. Organized Christianity doesn’t either. But how could any apostle’s creed truly capture and domesticate such wild and infinite love? And it is that love and light and grace that I am quite certain of.
So, happy Easter. There’s not an April Fools’ Day joke in sight.

What About Palm Monday?

On Palm Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate the apparently triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Many who saw or heard of the procession firsthand thought, “Ah, at last, the Messiah has come with his army to topple the Romans with swords instead of plowshares. Finally, Jesus will render unto Caesar a thrust of sharp metal.”
How wrong they were.
A week later, Jesus would be nailed to a cross, cruelly executed after being betrayed, abandoned, mocked and tortured.
At my church, we march around the church on Palm Sunday, waving palm fronds and palm crosses while singing a hymn, as if following in the footsteps of Jesus.
All of us extending our palms to the sky.
Raising palms to the Lord.
Then, an hour later, we all go home.
Back to our cell phones and social media.
Back to our TV remote controls and microwave settings.
Back to all of those things—and I know them all too well—that distract us from continuing on behind Jesus.
That prevent us from following the resurrected Christ, who stands beckoning us on to follow around the next bend into places we never imagined and things we never thought possible.
Good things that the world needs so desperately.
Things that only we can do.
Things that will be left undone if we do not do them.
Small, beautiful things.
Mustard seeds that only we can plant.
Because everyone has a sword with his or her name on it in this world.
A sword that can only become a plowshare for a mustard seed if it feels the transformational grip of our fingerprints upon it.
In reality, Palm Sunday has nothing to do with the palm fronds and crosses that we wave in the air.
Instead, it has everything to do with the palms of our hands.
With every tick of the clock all of us hold the fate of the world’s next few moments in the palm of our hands.
And so the fate of the world literally depends on us.
At least, that part of the world that we call home.
Will we give our palms to Jesus or will we make a fist?
And if we do give Jesus our palms, what about our fingers and our toes?
Jesus needs them all.
Jesus needs our arms and our legs.
Needs all of us in our entirety.
Oh, and how much Jesus longs for our heart and soul.
But, no, not for himself.
Jesus was never about himself.
It was always about us.
It is still always all about us.
How far are we willing to take God’s great love for everyone on Earth?
Jesus took that love as far as his fingers and toes, and his heart and soul, would let him.
Now it’s our turn.
Let’s begin with Palm Monday and continue on Palm Tuesday, then every day that follows.
And we should start with ourselves.
If we do not feel God’s great love for us, how can we possibly show that great love to anyone else?

A Hidden Figure In ‘The Prodigal Son’

The parable of the prodigal son would certainly earn a prime spot on Jesus’ Greatest Parable Hits CD.
It is hard to find anything in the Bible—Old Testament or New Testament—that more richly illustrates how much God loves us. No matter what we do, God’s love is always waiting for us with open arms. We can squander all the blessings that God has given us. We can live as dissolutely as humanly possible. We can find ourselves foraging for sustenance among the earth’s pig-styes. But, no matter what, God’s love is still there, waiting, like the father of the prodigal son.
All we need to do is come back home to that love.
But in contemplating this story, there is an added layer of understanding if we think about the fourth character. She is mentioned nowhere but surely must have played a compelling role in what happened when the prodigal son came home.
I refer to the wife, the mother of the prodigal son.
At its core, this famous parable is about the transformational power of love, both human and divine—because the two are inseparable. I don’t believe the father could have shown such unconditional love to his younger son without knowing the power of such love firsthand in his own life.
So, let’s look at the lesson from a slightly different point of view than the most commonly understood meaning—which, itself, is powerful enough for us all—that the father is God and the younger son is so many of us in the human race. But, I believe Jesus also wants us to understand the power of our own love.
In literal terms, this is a real, earthly family. Looking at the parable from a literal standpoint, the characters are not symbols or metaphors. When we regard the parable this way, the transformational power of both God’s love and human love resonates like a church bell in the night.
For the father to respond to his returning son so immediately and fully with such unconditional love must mean that he, too, has been, and is, unconditionally loved. Love like that must come from the heart of one who has known such love.
The unnamed and unmentioned wife—the mother of his children—must have been the source of that unconditional love in his own life. After all, the father doesn’t consult with his wife. He doesn’t say, ‘Honey, guess who’s come home. Is it okay if we kill the fatted calf?” Fatted calves don’t grow on trees but the father knew he didn’t need to ask. He knew the answer. He married the answer.
I believe the father lived with unconditional love on a daily basis and that is why there was such unconditional love when the couple’s younger son returned. Furthermore, it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that the father is able to show such understanding toward the younger son because he had his own difficult challenges growing up in the world—until he found the unconditional love of the woman who would become his wife.
Unconditional human love really can be transformational. It can literally change our lives. That is because unconditional human love connects us to the unconditional love of God in some beautifully mysterious and miraculous way. As Jesus taught the Beloved Disciple, who shares the lesson with us in I John, the 12th verse of the fourth chapter: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Wow! A really BIG WOW!!
And that is the love we see demonstrated in the story of the prodigal son.
“This brother of yours was dead,” the father explains to his oldest son, “and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
So, let us never, ever in a million years underestimate the power of our own love. It is, in its own way, divine and it can be, most definitely, transformational in the lives of those around us. We only have to look at ourselves and think about our own life’s journey to understand that holy truth.

Springing Ahead With Our Hearts

“For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

—John 3:20-21

One of my favorite childhood memories with my father is being five and six-years-old, staying up late on Saturday nights to watch “Shock Theater.” Just the two of us.
A Richmond television station would broadcast the classic horror films: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and all the rest. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi became as familiar to me as Mickey Mantle.
And, gosh, those actors were really scary in those movies.
But was I afraid?
No, because I felt so safe sitting close to my father on the sofa in front of the television, darkness all around, the only light coming from the screen of the black and white television as midnight approached. I knew nothing bad could happen to me as long as he was there.
Most of the scary scenes in those movies were set in darkness. Dracula came at night to drink his victims’ blood. Chaney’s character was transformed by the full moon into the ravening Wolf Man. When darkness came, in those films, evil was not far behind.
The trick, of course, was getting up enough courage to go to bed after the movie was over and I had told my father good night. I would hold my little stuffed dog Petesy tightly in my arms and say my prayers as hard as I could.
I never fell asleep right away, however, on those Saturday nights.
Even though I knew they were just movies, my imagination sometimes ran away with me in the darkness as I lay in bed. One night I woke up and really needed to pee, but I was certain that the Wolf Man was actually in our house, right down the hall in the living room.
I was terrified, so frightened that I even tried holding my breath, certain that if the Wolf Man heard me breathing he would know I was there and come get me. I lay still as a stone until morning came when I saw Mom and Dad again and, in the light of day, realized that the Wolf Man wasn’t real as, yes, I dashed into the bathroom.
Darkness and light are powerful symbols. The Bible is full of such references, beginning with the moment God declared “Let there be light” in the third verse of Genesis and the journey of light began. But we shouldn’t let that sentence belong entirely to God. Nor do I believe that God wants sole title and legal claim to those words.
The Bible, after all, is full of suggestions that we should also be saying “Let there be light” as often as possible, and then, crucially, doing what we can to help that light shine in this world for all who are living in darkness.
Jesus, unsurprisingly, took the light farther, and further, than anyone. He took the light places nobody had ever dreamed of before. He brought the light to you and he brought it to me. Directly. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. Instead, it was just the beginning because Jesus then took the light even one more amazing step—a giant leap for humankind, if we’re willing to take that leaping step.
Because Jesus told us—is still telling us—that we are the light of world and that we are meant to shine. What a miracle waiting inside all of us, and one so desperately needed.
Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man and the Mummy aren’t real, but the world is full of “monsters” that make people feel as if they are surrounded by a frightening darkness that would devour them if it could. And, sometimes it can. And does.
Violence, oppression, bigotry, hatred, poverty … There are so many “monsters” and they can have so many names. Many are so large that we may feel powerless to stop them. But there is one monster we can halt before it takes a single step.
We do that by making certain no “monster” ever has our name.
Daylight Savings Time returns this weekend. Our clocks “spring ahead.” Let there be light, then. Moreover, let’s truly save the light. Not the light in the sky, but the light that Jesus knows is inside us. The light that empowers us to be agents of love, healing, peace and reconciliation in the world.
So, let’s make certain to “spring ahead” with our hearts, as well.
And every day, not once a year.

Repentance Can Blow Your Mind

“Knock, knock”
“Who’s there?”
“Repentance who?”
“Good question.”
Repentance always seemed pretty straightforward to me—essentially an apology to God for things that I have done and there is an implied intention to make a course correction.
But that is an incomplete understanding of what Jesus means. Look at Jesus’ first recorded use of the word “repent.”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near,” he states in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
The Kingdom of heaven is near? What does that mean? Was he telling people the end of the world was right around the corner?
The Lord’s prayer answers both the question of what Jesus meant and illustrates the deeper meaning of “repent” and “repentance.” Jesus teaches us to pray “…Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus urges us to pray for the emergence of the Kingdom of heaven, the Kingdom of God, here on Earth. And for that to happen, Jesus knows, we must repent.
But that means we must do more than apologize to God for actions that we regret.
As the scholar and theologian Marcus J. Borg points out, “repent” meant something more to the early Christian community. And so it means more to us today.
The roots of the Greek word for repentance mean “to go beyond the mind you have.” The Greek, such a key language for accurately translating the New Testament, more closely reflects what those who actually heard Jesus speak understood him to mean when he spoke to them.
“Go beyond the mind you have,” Jesus is saying, “because the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
Only by going beyond the mind we have—going beyond the normal Earthly way of thinking about things, the normal Earthly way of doing things—can we apprehend and comprehend the real possibilities of the Kingdom of heaven here and now, as Jesus wishes we would.
When we repent, when we go beyond the mind we have, then we can truly bear fruit to help bring the Kingdom of a loving God into the world. And we can help others to bear the fruitful promise of their own lives.
When we go beyond the mind we have then we do not simply cut down fig trees because they are not bearing fruit. When we go beyond the mind we have then we discover previously unthought of ways to care for that fruitless tree instead of chopping it down, ways to tend its needs and nurture the soil around it so that it might bear fruit.
In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus clearly intends the tree to represent human beings who need and deserve care and compassion to enable them to bear fruit and contribute to the Kingdom of heaven.
People like you and me.
God always sees so much more in us, and those around us, than we ever see in ourselves. Understanding that truth enriches not only the soil of our own lives but also that of the people with whom we share this earth.
With Jesus as our arborist, we cannot help but bear fruit. That, after all, is what fruit trees do.
Knock, knock and knock again on the door.
Jesus will surely answer in ways that may not be immediately visible but will bear fruit some day through our faithful perseverance, when the time is just right, when the world—perhaps one single person—needs us most.

Grace Without Borders

“But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians.
What a profound statement. What a wondrous truth.
And there is no debate about that. There is no need for follow-up questions or 30 seconds for a rebuttal. We don’t need to go to any media website to confirm the veracity of Paul’s declaration. He’s not making something up in an attempt to win our vote in a primary. Paul’s assertion is not going to be trumped by anyone. His words are simply true.
Because this citizenship is granted by God, we don’t need immigration papers. We don’t need a green card. We don’t need a work permit. We don’t need the permission of Congress, the White House, or any parliament or national assembly around the world.
Nobody has to smuggle us across the border because there is no line on any map.
God’s grace is without borders.
God’s love has no crossing guards or checkpoints.
Nobody will ever build a wall to deny us entry.
We don’t have to live in the shadows. We do not have to fear deportation.
There are human organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and Clowns Without Borders, who minister to the hurt and suffering around the world. They will go anywhere. There are no limits on their caring and compassion, no boundary on their desire to heal wounds—physical and emotional—that are created by human conflict around the globe.
These men and women provide us an example, in microcosm, of the unfathomable expanse of God’s desire to reach out to us, wherever we may be on this planet, in healing love and grace for our own wounds—whatever they may be.
Grace Without Borders.
That is God.
Love Without Borders.
That is God.
Just as there are no possible human impediments between us and our citizenship in heaven, there is likewise no border that can block God’s love and grace from reaching us. There are no crossing guards or checkpoints. No wall could ever keep God’s love and grace away from us. God doesn’t need a green card or a work permit. Congress, the President and any national assembly around the world are all powerless to stop God.
We are citizens of heaven but God’s love and grace reside with us already, wherever this life takes us. What a gift that is!
So…what might we give God in return for such limitless generosity?
Perhaps that might be by removing any barriers to our own love in this world, removing any crossing guards or checkpoints between us and our forgiveness for those who have hurt us, and tearing down any wall that might stand between our compassion and those who need our healing touch, a healing touch that might simply be a word finally spoken from deep behind the borders of our own heart.
Citizenship is a great privilege, but it also carries tremendous responsibilities.

Let The Ashes Remind Us Of The Flame

And so our lenten journey begins. Forty days across the spirit meadows and 40 nights over the soul mountains to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee with its gentle waves reaching toward us even now in its widening embrace.
A high tide of God’s love and grace.
As brothers and sisters in Christ within the outstretched arms of a waiting, loving God, we each bring a spark of Christ within us to candle-flame the darkness and send it retreating from the face of our own flickering that summons strength for this journey.
Let us walk together now for these few moments through the bright eternal flame of the life of Jesus, right up to this very second.

And let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Here is my servant who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.
I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break
And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.
‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean.’
Immediately the man was cured.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.
And the curtain in the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore but they did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’
When they did they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him.”

So let the ashes remind us of the flame.

And may our Lenten journey be guided by this inner light toward the resurrection cross of blooming flowers, the hallelujah garden of God’s love toward which our Good Shepherd leads us.
The world may surround us and mark us with its ashes, but there is a flame deep within us that the world cannot touch.
And it is inextinguishable.