- By: Pastor Shawn
- Exploratory Musings on Faith and Life from Pastor Shawn
...then the Lord God formed 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
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Evangelical Lutheran Worship Ash Wednesday liturgy
Dust. Dirt. Ashes. We often think of these things as an annoyance, as something to be eliminated, or at least contained. We spend
lots of money and lots of time trying to remove them from our clothing and our homes. And yet we cannot, would not, have life
without them. Farmers, gardeners and others who plant understand this: they see life springing from the ground every planting
season, producing a rich bounty that nourishes and sustains us.
In the creation story in Genesis 2, humans come from the earth as well. God creates a man "from the dust of the ground." Even the
man's name comes from the ground. The name 'Adam' comes from the Hebrew word 'adamah, which means "dirt, earth, ground." But humans
are more than just dirt or dust. We also have the God-given breath of life. This breath animates us and makes us living beings.
The Greek word for breath, pneuma, can also mean 'wind' or 'spirit'. We are alive because God has infused us with spirit.
Dust + spirit = a being created in the image of God.
This life that we are given is an unpredictable thing, and we never know what course it will take. But we do know that,
ultimately, we all end up back again at the same place. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. "Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return." After a limited span, the spirit and the dust are separated again, until such time as we are
given new bodies to house our spirits, bodies that will be incorruptible and everlasting. This is the resurrection promise.
Our earthly bodies will pass away, but we will not.
So when, on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return," this is not meant to make us despair.
This is not meant to show us that we are fallen, or evil, or unworthy. It is meant to remind us that we are mortal,
yes, but that is how we were created. Death is a part of the cycle of life, but death does not define us or limit us.
Christ came to free us from the power of death, and to promise us new life and new hope.
When a volcano erupts, it spews ash over a wide radius. Initially, the landscape is bleak and foreboding. But volcanic ash
is incredibly fertile; in time, plants spring forth abundantly from the desolation, and animals inevitably follow.
The area becomes green and growing, teeming with renewal and new life. So it is with us. Yes, we will return to ashes, return to
dust. But that is only so that we can be a part of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth. Ultimately we will be
transformed, changed forever, made new and shining and forever clean.
So when you receive the cross on your forehead on Ash Wednesday, reflect upon the fact that you are mortal. But remember also
that you are not merely mortal. You are a beloved child of God, created from dust to be so much more than dust,
so much more than mortal. The breath of God is in you, bringing you alive and giving you the freedom to love God and neighbor.
And though the dust will fall away, that breath never will. That cross of ashes on your forehead is proof and promise of both
God's undying love for you and your undying life in Christ.