Office of the General Assembly
NEAL D. PRESA
Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:9–11, NRSV)
Little portions of soil and grass are appearing underneath the glacial thawing of the snow and ice that have covered us in central New Jersey these past three months. The brown dirt is signaling for me the arrival of spring and the advent of the holy season of Lent.
In a few days, we enter the holy season by receiving the cruciform in ashes, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” Those words, the gesture of offering and receiving the sign of the cross on the forehead, and the hushed tones of the gathered assembly lend to the sacred hour we assemble—ushered to remember that we are dust, that God has fashioned us from the earth in our mother’s womb, and we live our days in the presence of our Creator and the Lord Almighty, underneath the shadow of God’s wings. We can sometimes act like we are kings and queens of our respective spheres of influence, lord of our tongues, princes and princesses of our decisions—but there, with the ashes, under the cross, in life and in death we belong to God.
The subsequent seven weeks of the Lenten season has us pondering the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His was a journey of living in the presence of the heavenly Father, in the midst of his disciples and the people’s anxieties, fears, and hopes; it was a life of joy, trial, travail. It was being with and entering in the messiness of life, and the beauty that goes with it.
Then we are brought to the final days when the Lord washes the disciples’ feet, with the word and action to go with the moment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” His ministry was lived in the specter of the cross that loomed ahead. There, on Calvary’s cross, the weight of humanity’s sin becomes His burden, becomes our joy. The Lord Jesus’s body is pierced. He breathes His last. He is placed in the underside, in the belly of the earth. In utter darkness. In the underside of death.
But, death could not hold Him. The power of God raises Jesus Christ from the dead. Death will not have dominion over Him. Sin, evil, death, Satan—they don’t have the last word. In and with Christ, we die. In and with Christ, we rise to newness of life.
In the freedom of the Lord’s resurrection power and life, we dare to speak a word to the world, we dare to live in such a way that tells all persons, all powers, all principalities that seek to thwart, stifle, diminish, demean, or set aside the power of God in Christ—Death, be gone!
Then, when our days here are expired, and we return to the dust from whence we came, are buried in or scattered into the underside once more, our baptisms having been complete, we will be ushered into the unending and unceasing glory of God’s presence. There, in God, we will abide, in the underside of God’s embrace.
Lord, lead us, your disciples, in this Lenten journey.