By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken: You are dust, and to dust you shall return.
–spoken by the Lord when first humans were expelled from Eden. Genesis 3:19
There shall be in that great earth, a richer dust concealed.
—from the poem ‘1914’ by Rupert Brooke
Dear Disciples of the Crucified Messiah,
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST, AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN. Those words were spoken by God to the first humans. Those words were spoken to 144 disciples on Ash Wednesday as I smeared ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads. Those words still ring true and haunt us.
YOU AND I ARE DYING, AND THERE IS NO ESCAPING THAT. A part of each of us wants to deny that reality, but in the history of humanity, the statistics are inescapable: One death for every live birth (except for Enoch and Elijah). How are we supposed to deal with that? How are we supposed to live in the shadow of death?
Below are excerpts from the essay The Journey of Dust by Jill Carattini:
IT IS HELPFUL TO BE REMINDED THAT WE ARE DUST. It is a reminder to hold as we move through life—through successes, disappointments, questions, and answers. For the Christian, it is also a truth to help us approach the vast and terrible circumstances leading up to the crucifixion of the human Son of God. Beginning with the ashes of Ash Wednesday, the journey through Lent into the light and darkness of Holy Week is for those made in dust who will return to dust, those willing to trace the breath that began all of life in a garden to the place where Christ breathed his last. It is a journey that expends everything within us.
Our humanity is leveled by the bright sadness of Holy Week. From the invitation to consume body and blood in the Last Supper to the desolation of that body on the Cross, we are undone by events that began before us and will continue to be remembered long after we are gone. The season of Lent is a stark reminder that we are, in the words of Isaiah or the sentiments of the psalmist, like grass that withers, flowers that blow away like dust. But so we are, in this great earth, a richer dust concealed. Walking in cemeteries we realize this; communing with Christ we encounter it. Walking through Lent as dust and ashes invites us to see our need for God’s unchanging provision: God offers us the Cross, communion and forgiveness, the body of one broken, hope in one raised, and the life everlasting.
WHAT A SEASON! WHAT A MONTH! You and I are dying, but… death is not the last word of our story. Our God is full of surprises. And on the last day of this long month, we will be on the eve of the greatest joke in human history. April Fools’ Day will have a wonderful twist to it, just like Valentine’s Day did last month.
SO MUCH IN OUR WORLD AND IN OUR LIVES IS TRIVIAL. This season of Lent is not. God descending upon earth on the ultimate rescue mission is high adventure. God’s design for saving the lost is contrary to every human inclination. Grace and mercy, forgiving and loving enemies, submission to shame and the forces of evil: Is that any way to save the lost and conquer death? Come and see!
Pastor Scott Peterson