Death Be Not Proud: Ash Wednesday Reflections

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks a sobering beginning to the season of Lent. Traditionally, people’s foreheads are marked with ashes as a symbol of repentance (think of the Biblical “sackcloth and ashes”) and as a reminder of our mortality. We are not gods—we are but creatures

We do our best to flee from death. Our humanity is at war with it, fighting to keep it at bay. We fill our lives to distraction with the things of life. We work, we play, we are entertained. We build careers and homes and families. All in bold-faced defiance of our inevitable end. As we get sick and as we age, pills, tests, and treatments bandage us up and get us back into the game. All along, our mortality looms around us. Even with all of our medical advances and the continually rising life expectancy, we have yet to find any secret to immortality. We are dust; to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19). Death comes to all of us.

In the Christian worldview, we believe death is not the end. Through Jesus, we have the hope and possibility of an endless life in the presence of God. For those whose trust lies in the atoning work of Christ, we look forward to a day when suffering, tears, pain, and death are brought to an end. Christ’s death conquered not only sin but death itself. This is the bedrock for hope in the midst of the painful reminder of our human mortality. Death comes to all of us—but we put our hope in the Savior who has swallowed the grave.

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Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

—John Donne, Holy Sonnet X