“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return!”
I’ve said those words countless times as I placed ashes and the sign of the cross on the forehead of worshipers. And, I’ve had them spoken to me at the beginning of Lent for decades.
But this year the words have a particular poignancy. Linda, with whom my life has been deeply intertwined in a profound bond of love for six decades, has too quickly returned “to dust” from which she came.
Within the last five years, death has claimed my wife, my mother, sister, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, aunt, several friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
On this Ash Wednesday, “To dust you shall return” sounds and feels more like a personal medical prognosis than a routine religious ritual.
The circle is drawing closer. Life is narrowing. Energy is lessening. Capacities are diminishing. Frailty lies on the horizon. Time is running out.
I know this seems grim and foreboding. But, Ash Wednesday and Lent are about confronting the reality that we all live with the dust from which we came and the dust to which we return.
Life is always Frail! Fragile! Fleeting!
Yet, there is a strange freedom in acknowledging our own frailty and mortality. The idols of control, self aggrandizement, and invincibility are stripped away.
What’s left amid the ashes of crumbling idols is Grace! Gift! God!
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are words spoken in community as we are marked with the sign of Cross.
The One who breathes into the dust from which we came redeems the dust to which we return.
So, we are not alone on our journey from dust. . . to dust!
And, we journey toward a new heaven and new earth where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more . . .” (Revelation 21:4).