To Dust You Will Return

From last week. Happy Lent everyone.

 

Good morning. Here we are a couple weeks into Lent. This year Lent kind of snuck up on me. Sort of literally. A week and a half ago I was at an ice cream parlor with some students after a tour of the capital. Yes, Central Dairy. And a woman walked in with a scruffy looking swastika tattoo on her forehead. “Bad life choice much?” I thought, or something equally snarky. Then I noticed that her young son had one as well. Good grief! Now I really got judgey. “White power parent of the year. Dip into your meth fund for that little beauty?” As my mind prepared the next zinger, it came to me that it was Ash Wednesday. Oh. Right. And I sat there quietly eating my ice cream and feeling small.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of lent and is observed by a brief service where ashes are, usually in the sign of the cross, smeared onto the forehead, a reminder of where we come from and where we are headed. Then 40 days of preparation for Easter, generally associated with Jesus’s 40 days in the desert. I also learned in my bit of research that it’s not just the Catholics and Episcopalians any more, but many denominations, even baptists, smearing ashes. And not just in church, but on street corners, subway stations, and in cars at intersections waiting for stop lights. And, Ash Wednesday is a service that the Catholic Church makes available to everyone–Protestant, Islam, Hindu, atheist, even those excommunicated from the church, are welcome at Ash Wednesday.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

I’ve talked about lent before and the importance of self examination and self denial and remembering Jesus’s time of temptation. But not Ash Wednesday. And while the Ash Wednesday service is one of my favorites and I’m sorry I missed it this year, I’m not sure what it is that appeals to me. What does it mean? And why is it that this ancient ritual about our mortality is gaining popularity, not just in the church, but on the street corner?

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Is there some comfort to be taken in that? When we’re sad and discouraged and tired. We are all of us in the same boat. Catholics and Protestants; Muslims and atheists; people on the street and people in the pew; mothers who take their kids to church and then out for ice cream, and judgmental school teachers. We are all here for a brief time, and then we’re gone. And that’s the way it’s always been.

This morning as we prepare for communion, in this time of lent, of preparation for Easter Sunday, let us not hurry past the fact that we worship a god who for a time dwelt among us, who was at times sad and discouraged and tired, and who, like all those who came before and after him, died. And let’s not race to resurrection Sunday, but instead take some time and sit with what it means to follow a god who is not just waiting for us at the end of our journey, but a god who is with us when we’re weary, when we’re lost, when we’re in church and when we swear we’ll never go back, when we’re at our best and our worst, a god who loves us all the same, regardless of who or where we are.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Amen.

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