New life grows out of death

New life grows out of death

"On Ash Wednesday everything is over…" it says in a well-known carnival song. For the hilarity of the days before may be true. But Christians also have a perspective beyond Ash Wednesday.

In ancient mythology, in Egypt and Greece, there was the concept of a fabled bird that was given the name "Phoenix". A special characteristic was attributed to this bird: At the end of its life, according to myth, the phoenix died, but this was not yet its final fate. For, it was said, from his dust the phoenix would be reborn, he could rise from his decaying body to new life.

The cycle of becoming and passing, which every human life carries within itself, was thus transferred to a mythological being whose existence is entirely borne of dying and being born. In linguistic usage, the saying that something can rise "like the phoenix from the ashes" has also been derived from this ancient mythological story.

Like phoenix from the ashes

The Christian faith has already very early renounced the mythological contents of its environment. And yet, the phoenix from the ashes is also a beautiful image to describe what Christians around the world celebrate on Ash Wednesday. For even on this day, which marks the beginning of the Easter penitential season, it is all about ashes. It is about the sign of human transience.

Therefore, when the ashes are laid on, each individual is also told anew: "Remember, man, that you are dust and will return to dust.". All life is subject to the cycle of becoming and passing away. No life, however powerful or magnificent, lasts forever.

The prayer of the 49. This is recognized by the words of Psalm 49 when it says: "Wise men die; together the fool and the fool perish and leave their wealth to others. (…) Man does not remain in his splendor; he is like cattle that fall silent."Life runs towards death, even if people try to suppress this certainty again and again.

Ash Wednesday, with its evocative sign of ashes, puts this at the center of the preparation for Easter year after year: human life is transient and will not last forever. But it would be too sad a message if one were to cling only to this sign of ashes. Rather, it is precisely this reference to one’s own transience that also contains the invitation to see further. Just as the mythological phoenix rises from the ashes, so man is not eternally given over to death.

Already Psalm 49 does not end with the deeply pessimistic worldview that all must die. At the end, the psalmist looks to the future with hope: "But God will deliver me from the danger of the underworld; yes, he will take me up."This is the certainty toward which life ultimately runs: Man crumbles to dust at the end of life, he returns to that from which he was taken.

But the ashes are not the last thing. Rather, it is precisely from the inevitable death that new life arises. In the dying of man is founded the hope of his resurrection. Here the view is widened that all life does not run into emptiness, but knows itself to be safe in God’s protecting hand.

God himself became man

And in the end, one will not rise like the phoenix from the ashes.

The phoenix is a bird from mythology, a fanciful creature that does not exist in reality. But as Christians we believe and confess something else: that like Christ we rise from the ashes to new life.

This is a firm faith based on the Gospel. On a message that is not just a myth, because in Christ God himself has allied himself with humanity. God himself became man and destroyed death in his Son once and for all. This is what really happened. And that is why the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is not a sad sign, nothing that would only confront us with our end.

On Ash Wednesday, something deeply paschal resonates in the ashes.

Something that at the beginning of Lent is present only in a small and inconspicuous way, but that in the 40 days of the Easter penitential season deepens more and more and finally leads to the jubilation of Easter Day. To rise like Christ from the ashes of corruption – this is the faith that sustains us not only through Lent, but throughout our lives.

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