The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever… (1 Peter 1:24-25)
During the winter months, there is little, if any, grass to be seen. The snow covers it, quite thickly in places. The trees lay bare of leaves and buds. The flowers in our gardens and around our houses are completely absent, with bulbs waiting patiently in the ground for warmer weather. Creation has a way of reminding us, through the cycles of seasons, that life and death are more than mere ideas. They are the reality in this sinful world we live in.
Our culture has, especially over the last century or so, done everything in its power to remove the stark reality of death from before our eyes. Families no longer deal with the remains of their deceased loved ones. Parents choose to leave children at home instead of bringing them to wakes and funerals, because they do not want to have any ‘uncomfortable’ conversations about death. Sometimes, people refuse even to visit their dying loved ones while they are still alive, because they choose rather to “remember them how they were.” Ours is a culture that idolizes youth and vigor, and chooses to ignore the realities of aging, sickness, and death.
It is hard to say exactly why this might be. Perhaps people are simply afraid of death. Maybe it is easier to ignore reality than to deal with it at all. Deep down, it might be because facing the death of loved ones means confronting our own mortality. With picture filters, anti-aging creams, plastic surgeries, and ‘positive thinking,’ we might be able to pretend – for awhile – that death is not something we need to worry about. But, as it has for the entirety of history, death spares no man.
As the season of Lent begins, we are immediately confronted with the reality of death. The paraments are briefly black. We sing funeral-like dirges. Onto our foreheads the pastor places black ash. And into our ears the words of the primal curse are spoken: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Sin leads to death. We are all sinners, and we will all die. There is no escaping it. We might try to gussy ourselves up with ornaments and ointments, coverings and clothing, but they are all temporary. All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.
When Peter quoted these words (from Isaiah 40) in his first letter (1:24-25), he was not doing it out of depression, sadness, or some morbid obsession with dying. Instead, it was the most sensible, practical, and useful message he could have shared. Despite our best efforts, we cannot escape death. If it is true we are all sinners (and it is!), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), then we are all going to die. The sooner we come to that realization, the sooner we can appreciate the Word of God for what it is – the eternal and life-giving power of God.
Cultures come and go, language and ideas change, people live and die; but God’s Word will never, ever go away. There is nothing as important to us, because it is in this Word that we find the solution to the problem that has plagued mankind since Adam and Eve. You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Peter, who was called to follow Jesus, the Word become flesh, no doubt had the words of Jesus in mind when he was writing this: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). But, we Christians have been born again – through water and the Word! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…(1 Peter 1:3-4). Jesus has defeated death, and he has given us a promise that, unlike our current lives, will never fade away or die. God will raise us and give us eternal life!
This Lent, as you join us on Wednesday evenings and hear Saint Peter’s letter, I encourage you to confront reality head on. Confess your sins – and be forgiven. Admit your mortality – and receive the promise of new life. Repent of your pride – and live in God’s Word. Unlike everything else in the world, only God’s Word endures now – and forever! -Pastor Squire