What do these ashes mean? That’s one way to ask the question. Another might be, “Why do you have dirt on your forehead?” I think the answer is simple. These ashes remind us of our mortality. They don’t remind us of our sinfulness, what we need to give up, or those things we need to improve upon. No, they serve as a visible reminder of our own finite existence. Now tonight, as we enter this sacred season, what are we going to do with this reminder? Will be pretend that superficial acts of self-denial really make us better people for 40 days? Perhaps, that’s up to you. I hope you take this opportunity to ask a deeper, more fundamental question. Since these ashes are about our mortality; might we ask: how will we measure our lives? The cross, the x/y axis on our forehead, represents a means of measuring our lives. This Lent, how will we measure our Lives?
I think there are two ways we can measure our lives this Lent and the scripture passage bears out these distinctions. Do we want to measure our lives by what what’s on our resumes or what might be said at our funeral (what’s in our eulogies)? It’s an interesting distinction. Resume values are those whom Jesus calls out for public displays of piety and religion in tonight’s reading. You know about resumes. We want resumes to be the reflection of our best selves. Yet, there’s inevitable exaggeration, jargon when smaller words might do, and a desire to put ourselves in a better setting. Resumes can be impressive documents. You can find a great deal about a person from reading one. But I’ve never been to a funeral where someone (a family member or friend) read the deceased’s resume. I think that would be the saddest funeral ever. Your life was just the sum total of work, seminars, papers, projects, and how much money you thought you were worth. Do you think God cares about your resume? Resumes, even the best ones, rarely tell a good story. Resumes are inherently self-aggrandizing. That’s not a good virtue to live by. Some of us make the habit of adopting resume living as a way of life. We’re always pushing who we are, what we do, where we’ve been, where we’re going, all the time. Resume people are big on their own strengths (isn’t that what a resume is for?). But in embracing their strengths, they are often blind to their weaknesses. Being a resume person can become a lifestyle. It’s the “look at me and isn’t my lifestyle awesome” approach to life. If you don’t believe me, look at your friend’s Facebook page (or ever your own). I’m sure sure its full of resume people. Maybe being a resume person is something to give up for Lent.
Eulogies, on the other hand, tell stories. Eulogies talk about life beyond work, money, and awesome vacations. I love a good eulogy. If you live a eulogy life, others talk about you (and not in a negative way). Good eulogies are a celebration of a life well lived. People who live eulogy lives are always doing things for other people. They measure their lives by touching other people’s lives. Often, they do this in complete silence or anonymity. Eulogy people know their weaknesses. Those weaknesses are often on display at eulogies. And that’s OK, because eulogies are given in love. Eulogies aren’t about hiding. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We’re all in the same finite boat. Eulogy people know their mortality, so much so, some even wear it, once a year, on their foreheads.