February 14, Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17)
There are two sure things in life: death and sin.
I’ve watched a lot of people die. I started my ministry as a hospital chaplain, and I’ve worked as a trauma chaplain and a hospice chaplain as well. I’ve watched people die peacefully of old age, with a loving family gathered at the bedside, saying good-bye with tears and laughter and giving thanks for a life well lived. I’ve also watched a young man bleed to death after being shot, his mother sobbing at his side, and I’ve gone home and washed the blood out of my shirt and struggled to make meaning of it all.
If this subject makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. It makes me uncomfortable, too. And there’s a part of me that thinks that talking about death, something so obviously depressing, is the wrong move for a pastor. Ministers are often told that we should preach only about happy things, and that if we don’t, people will stop coming to our churches.
Maybe that’s true. Most of the time I do try to preach sermons that focus on the good and hopeful parts of life. But if that’s all I do, I’m doing the people of God a disservice—because my job as a minister of the gospel, particularly in the pulpit, is to tell the truth. And there is one big, uncomfortable truth we cannot avoid: sooner or later, no matter how we try to stop it or delay it, we are all going to die.