"From dust you came and to dust you shall return"(Genesis 3.19).
These words aren't lightly uttered. Protestant pastor-types, like me, oft get giddy at the prospect of liturgical rites, like the theatrics of baptism and communion, the movements of weddings and funerals, and any and all opportunities to play with flaming candles. Yes, it is a bit sickening; for we've forgotten that holy things are on loan and trusted with our egos--a lesson Uzzah got but one chance to learn (2 Samuel 6.1-11). After a night like tonight, however, the giddiness gets gone rather quickly.
Ash Wednesday leaves no room for such nonsense. We're called together for one simple reminder: each of us is dying.
We are Uzzah, and we reach daily for that which we've reached since the beginning (Genesis 3.20-24; Ecclesiastes 1.12-14; Epic of Gilgamesh, Ninth Tablet). We find ourselves forgetful, thinking that days are kept by the sun; thinking that our lives are sustained by the work we do; thinking that our health rests in the hands of white coats and framed diplomas; thinking that our faith is rechargeable, like a quickly-revived smart phone plugged into wall or car, and that our faith is fed from the hand of such "professionals." For bread alone we seek because we've forgotten (Deuteronomy 8.3).
Tonight, though, was a night to remember. Insecurities arising from sporting dark smudges are the least of our concerns. We were reminded that from dust we came and to dust we will return. If it didn't take when the ashes were imposed upon ourselves, certainly it did as they were imposed upon OUR loved ones, upon OUR spouses, upon OUR children. We remembered that they, too, are dust and that to dust they, too, will return.
Why all the gloom? The gloom turns our hearts and minds, readies our spirit. We heard it tonight in our Scriptures during worship. Indeed, the ax is ready to chop the tree down at the roots (Matthew 3.10), but this is no call to get our lives right. Rather, it's a call to respond appropriately. We cannot begin from any place save the bottom (Psalm 51.16-17). From there, we remember our true condition. We then know ourselves rightly as those for whom Christ truly came (Matthew 3.7-9, Mark 2.17). Total recall leads us with Christ to the cross to meet our deaths. There, precisely there, nothing suffices but absolute trust in God.
Welcome to Lent. I'll lie down tonight, after washing the ashes from my forehead, with images of faces, the echos of names, and the repetition of those words, "From dust you came and to dust you will return." The grittiness of the oil-mixed ash on skin responding to the apprehensive flow of my fingers is burnt into my psyche, evermore so as I was obliged to kneel face-to-face to standing children or look them in the eyes as they clung on the hips of parents. With this turmoil and the weightiness of its implications, there's always the next step. The question is: "How are we going to take the next step?"
Let's journey through the desert. Trust God fully. Lean on New Kirk as she seeks to be an oasis during this Lenten journey.
*NEW* for the month of March
Daily Prayer: M-F in the sanctuary; Morning, 6:30am-7:30am; Midday, 12:00pm-1:00pm
Wednesdays: Dinner, 5:30pm; Groups, 6:30pm; Vespers, 7pm-7:15pm
Sundays: Curiosity Course (New Members), 11:45am-12:30pm