To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
In early 2002 I had the opportunity to serve in a nursing home as a student chaplain. After the Ash Wednesday service, I was tasked to go from room to room to give the imposition of the ashes to people who couldn’t make it to the service. The people in the rooms were in various states of consciousness. I dipped my finger in the ashes and placed it on their forehead as I said, “Remember You are Dust and to Dust You Shall Return.” That phrase had special meaning that year since most of the people were close to death.
That phrase seems to have meaning again in 2021. Between Ash Wednesday 2020 and today, we have seen death everywhere. We are closing in on nearly 500,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus and 2 million worldwide. Police brutality reared its ugly head again as we saw the names of so many African American men and women: Breonna Taylor, Armad Aubrey, Elijah McClain, George Floyd and probably others that have slipped into the background. Remember your are dust, indeed.
The text from Luke seems like an odd text for Ash Wednesday. But if you really think about it, well, it kind of makes sense. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem which is a nice way of saying he is on his way to his impending death. As he makes his way, a number of people come to him saying they want to follow him. I don’t doubt that they really want to follow him. But each of them has an excuse and if we are being honest, they made sense. The first guy wanted to follow him, but Jesus reminded him the road would not be easy. The second one wanted to bury his father and the next one wanted to say goodbye to friends. Each time Jesus took them to task. They wanted to follow Jesus, but they had other things to do. Like a lot of folk, they thought they had time. But Jesus’ response is saying that the time to follow Jesus is NOW. Jesus knew death was near, the three wannabe disciples were not aware of what might happen down the road.
We want to think we have all the time in the world to follow Jesus, but if last year has taught us anything is that tomorrow is not promised. If we are going to follow Jesus we have to be willing to follow him now. Life is too short.
In a culture where we don’t want to deal with the reality of death, Ash Wednesday and the last year tell us that we don’t have time to waste.
The gospel group The Winans had a hit in the 80s called “Tomorrow.” The very end of the song tells us “don’t let this moment slip away,” because, “Your tomorrow could very well begin today.” So, let’s not wait to follow Jesus. Tomorrow is sooner than we think.