I’ve been spending time with the book of Ecclesiastes lately. One of my Christmas presents was the book Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film by Robert K. Johnston. Bible, movies – perfect for me.
With Ash Wednesday upon us, Ecclesiastes seems a fitting place to spend the first day of Lent. Ecclesiastes is classified as Wisdom Literature within the Bible, which means it’s a bit philosophical. Its real concern is “what is the meaning of life?” At times it’s very cynical. Some of the comments are downright depressing. It is from Ecclesiastes that we get, “All go to one place; all are from the dust, all turn to dust again.” The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds readers several times that their deaths are certain. Everyone dies: rich or poor, wise or fool. In the end, there is no difference.
Ash Wednesday is a reminder of that as well. Sometimes we receive a smear of ashes on our foreheads to remind us that we are mortal. The Ash Wednesday liturgy may even allude to the words about dust in Ecclesiastes. On Ash Wednesday we begin the Lenten season by considering our death. At the other end of the Lenten season is Good Friday and Easter, where death is conquered and we celebrate the eternal life of Resurrection.
Too often we want to rush to the end – after all, it’s a happy ending. But the real meaning can only be appreciated by those who, like the author of Ecclesiastes, have looked death in the face to know it is real. It’s important to note that when the Easter story is read, we will find ourselves in a graveyard. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that you can’t get to Easter without going to that graveyard.