Photo by John D. Pierce at Wadi Qelt in the eastern West Bank.

Photo by John D. Pierce at Wadi Qelt in the eastern West Bank.

Ash Wednesday came early this year. We were reminded again of God’s ancient words to Adam, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Indeed, illness and death do not wait: I made three funeral home visits during the first six days of the new year.

Trying to “hold on to the happy” of Christmas is a life strategy that never works. Happiness comes to us, but so do challenge, illness, failure, disappointment, brokenness, evil and death.

Scripture tells us of the time when Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

Immediately after some of the high water marks of his life and ministry, Jesus invariably reminded the disciples and thereby himself of the cross that was before him.

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus then teaches that the Son of Man must be rejected and even killed.

Christ experiences the miracle on the Mount of Transfiguration. Then, Jesus quickly reminds the disciples that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of men — and sets his face toward Jerusalem.

The Lenten season is for Christians a turning of the face toward Jerusalem.

Human nature runs from Jerusalem and its cross and suffering. We want to run from bad news, from signs of mortality, from danger and evil.

Clinging with all our might to grasp happiness and escape the unpleasantness of life, we set our face toward past pleasantness and do all we can to avoid all that hurts. Unfortunately, all this approach to life yields is unrelenting fear — fear that the bad will overtake us, that we will not be able to hold on to our happiness forever.

In Lent, Jesus speaks to us his oft- spoken encouragement: “Fear not.”

Do not spend your life in the vain hope that it can avoid suffering and pain.

Do not live fearfully that the happiness you have experienced will flee and never be replaced.

Do not live dreadfully in a state of denial — denying your own mortality, your own sinfulness, the hurts and suffering of the human family, and the pervasive presence of unrelenting evil.

Instead, turn and face reality.

Confess what is true as well as what is inevitable about yourself and the world you live in. Set your face toward Jerusalem, and do not be afraid of the journey.

The journey of faith continues. The hope, love, joy and peace of Christmas will indeed go with us. The light of Epiphany will continue to shine. But, ultimately life must be lived with all of its challenges.

Faith is not our escape from the harsh realities of living, but it is our equipping to live redemptively and abundantly in the midst of all life brings.

The ashes, the crosses, the nails, the thorns, the prayers and litanies of confession, the passion of Holy Week — all these things await us. Let us set our faces toward Jerusalem and embrace the journey once again.

To the cross, to the tomb: then Resurrection! NFJ

By Jack Glasgow

Jack Glasgow is pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C., and serves on the Board of Directors of Baptists Today/Nurturing Faith.