Tomorrow, clergy around the world will draw a cross-shaped smudge of dark black ashes on the foreheads of millions of people. It’s the ancient rite of The Imposition of Ashes that signals the beginning of Lent. The words that accompany the ‘imposition’ on Ash Wednesday are simple, sober, and true.
All God’s people. All races and nations and tribes from all ages and stages of life come to remember the stark reality of death and dust: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
After this solemn reminder of our mortality, the congregation reads Psalm 51 together. This is the confession of David after he was confronted by Nathan. Candidly, the written instructions for the choirmaster of Israel for this Psalm are embarrassing, and we don’t generally read them: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The sin for which we need forgiveness would be embarrassing, too, if it were made as public as David’s. But regardless of whether our sin is secret or notorious, private or public, we join David in this one thing: We are dust and to dust we shall all return.
There’s no escaping it.
It’s not at all happy-clappy, but there’s immense hope in it, too. Because we’re more than dust in the wind. Much more. Gloriously much more.
And that’s precisely where Lent is headed.
The Prayer Book says that we all go down to the dust and yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Why? Easter. As with Jesus, God will give us new bodies, resurrected bodies, glorious bodies, honorable bodies; not made of the earth or dust, but of heaven.
St. Paul wrote: As was the man of dust (Adam), so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven (Jesus), so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47-48)
In other words, one day, when all the dust settles, we will be made like him. O Happy Day! What begins with dust, ends with glory.
I genuinely hope you’ll join us as we begin practicing a holy Lent together tomorrow, 7PM at the studio.