Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012: Joel 2:1–2, 12–17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21
In a very little bit, I will dip my thumb in a little oil and a little ash and trace the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those of you who’d like to come forward.
As I do it, I will say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Which is pretty close to a direct quote from Genesis 3:19, where God reminds Adam of the reality of the material from which he was made, and then adds the promise (or some would say curse) of Adam’s death as a consequence of sin.
And so, with these ashes we are reminded that we, too, are made of the earth and connected to the earth
we are reminded that we, too, will die
we are reminded that we, too, sin,
—that we are broken and turned in on ourselves, and that we need to repent.
It’s kind of a sobering message: that we will die and return to dust and it seems particularly odd today, with it being almost spring-like outside and the bulbs are all starting to break—sending determined green shoots up from the ground.
It might be easier to think about death if it were cold and snowy still—not that I’m complaining, mind you.
But, actually, as I think about it: I think that those two things set beside each other are absolutely perfect for the beginning of our Lenten practice—this new life springing up and this very clear reminder of death.
Because this thing that we do during lent, these practices that we take on during lent:
of prayer and confession and fasting and almsgiving (or feeding the poor, since that’s a kind of archaic word)
these practices remind us again and again of our limits
and again and again of our connectedness to others and to the earth and to the whole creation
these practices remind us again and again that we are mortal
made of dust, of the earth
that we are part of the broken creation
Now, this is not to make us feel bad—
but these practices that remind us so much of our own death are meant to prepare us for new life.
Because if there is one thing that the path to the cross and the empty tomb should teach us is that death happens before new life. And that would be a lesson the seasons reinforce again and again: there is no spring without winter; there is no new shoots springing up from the ground without seeds being buried.
And so we too join that cycle because we are connected to it
—we are made of dust of the earth
—tenderly and radically loved by a God who became dust too
and so we practice the art of dying
—which we were first taught in our baptism
—which the mark of the cross reminds us of
so that we might learn to also rise with Christ. Amen.
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