Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
The words spoken as the ash cross is traced on your forehead every Ash Wednesday. However, do you know that this was also spoken by God in the Bible? In Genesis 3:19 Adam, Eve and the serpent are punished for their transgressions in the Garden. The curse that is given to Adam - and all of humankind:
“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
It seems pretty bleak for the first humans and the serpent - and rightfully so. They had just one rule to follow and they broke it. But placing the blame or pointing fingers has not gotten us very far. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of this reality - that we are made from the dust of the earth and cosmos and to that dust we will return. It is the cycle of life. We are reminded of that cycle most directly today.
Some of my colleagues may not agree, but I believe that it is the utmost importance that we take special care when imposing the ashes. Some blob them or just smudge the forehead of the parishioner. I believe that the sign of the cross is the most important aspect of the imposition of the ashes. Yes the ash reminds us of the mortality and the pending return to the dust - but the cross of Jesus Christ reminds us that death is not the end of the story. The expelling from the Garden was not the end of the story. The punishments were not the end of the story.
The story is the cross.
The cross that Jesus died on is the story that will lead us to eternal life with God. The ash cross stands as a stark reminder that it is there we face death with the certain hope of the resurrection promise. There in the darkness the light shines - always. There is a saying that only two certainties exist in life; death and taxes. The cross on our foreheads today reminds us of a third - the resurrection hope that all will be complete in Christ.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Also remember that you are called child of God - and to God you shall also return.
Ash Wednesday at Home
As you know, we are unable to come together physically for Ash Wednesday. Hopefully you either made your ashes or picked them up from the office. The Zoom link is here for tonight's service at 7 PM. If you are not going to be joining us this evening, please feel free to impose (the term used for distribution of the ashes) on yourself.
First, we confess our sins before God. There is a rubric that can be used, or a simple time of silent reflection thinking about how we may have turned away from God and asking forgiveness. Even for things we do not know/understand were contrary to the love of Christ.
Then we pray over the ashes:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth.
May these ashes be a sign of our mortality and penitence, reminding us
that only by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ are we given eternal life;
through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Then we trace the cross on our forehead saying - “Remember that I am dust and to dust I shall return.”
Followed by the Lord’s Prayer and some time of silence or conversation with loved ones about what this means to you.
May you have a holy and blessed Lent.