Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Dust to Dust
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Often, as a pastor, it my job to speak words of hope and comfort. One of the joys of my calling is to lift others up with words of encouragement and to celebrate the joy and life that we share and anticipate in Jesus Christ. But it is not my calling simply to make others happy or to tell them what they would like to hear. I must also speak words of solemn truth, of sobering reality.
On this day, my role as a minister entails nothing less then reminding those in my congregation of their impending death. I will tell them that they are moving, breathing bodies of dirt and that one day they will cease to be even that. I will then remind them of this reality by smearing dirt on their faces in the shape of an ancient instrument of torture and execution.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our death, our own mortality, because that it is the only way to truly understand life. We must recognize that even as we are living we are dying. The breath of air you just inhaled, while providing your body with oxygen and life, also signals that you are one breath closer to that inevitable last breath. We are not immortal gods. We are finite, fallen, limited human beings made of dust. Every step of life we take is also a step toward death which should cause us to carefully consider how we want to spend those precious steps.
Of course, Ash Wednesday is also the beginning of the season of Lent. This is the season in which we remember Christ's journey toward the cross. And that journey teaches us another ironic truth; that every step toward death is also a step toward life. Jesus' shows us that to truly live we must die. It is only by dying to our own selfish desires and taking up our cross in service to others and obedience to God that we can really live. This is why we engage in practices like fasting and repentance. They are ways of dying to ourselves so that we might live for God.
On this day, we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.