I want you to think about a number.
If somebody gave you $25,550, you would be pleased. It’s a respectable sum of money. It would buy a better than average car. It would be a nice down payment for a home. You could even pay for a year of college tuition.
$25,550? Not bad.
But what if someone gave you $25,550, and then told you it was all the money you would receive for the rest of your life? Most of us in North America would say: “That’s not enough. I could never make it on that.”
The average life span in the West is 70 years. That breaks down to 25,550 days that the majority of us are given to exist on this planet. When you think about it like that, it doesn’t sound like much, does it? Especially considering that we spend 1/3 of that time asleep. Throw in the fact that many of us have already used up a good portion already, and it really begins to feel short. Even if you outpace the average and live to be 100 it’s still only 36,000 days.
The book of beginnings tells us how it all began for humanity. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) We are creatures. We have a Creator. We are made.
Ash Wednesday is set aside as a day to remind us that we are finite. We will not have this earthly body forever. The apostle Paul refers to our earthly bodies as tents – temporary dwellings. We only have so many days because we are made from the dust and to the dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).
This is another way to say that while the gift of life is precious and sacred, it is also fragile and fleeting. The biblical writer James puts it bluntly: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
And yet, the infinite Creator, the one who breathed the breath of life into us in the first place, and who allows us to breathe and live and have this sacred time, sustains us. Humility is about recognizing that we are human beings and totally dependent on God for the life we have. Repentance is about mourning for the time we have not used wisely, and praying for God’s grace and wisdom to spend what days we have remaining in full surrender and obedience to his purposes.
If this is roughly how much time we are allotted can we afford to miss even a single day not captivated by the miracle of this life?
Ash Wednesday says no.