Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Those are the traditional words used at the Ash Wednesday service as you are marked with the sign of the cross. They are the words that start us on the Lenten journey that leads to the cross, to death, to despair, to an end.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words remind us of the traditional words of committal at the graveside “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. A time of grieving and of saying good-bye. A moment of pain, a time of sorrow.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words remind us of our mortality. They call us to remember that we are not the center of the universe. They call us to remember that there was before us and there will be after us, that none of us are indispensable.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words prepare us for what comes next. Only when we take seriously the reality of death can we experience fully the glory of resurrection. The Lenten journey takes us to Good Friday but the day after Lent ends is Easter Sunday. The graveside gathering is a time of sorrow but the word of hope we share is that the grave is not the end. Individuals may come and go but we share in a larger work, the whole of which we may never know. No matter what may come there is hope, and promise, and possibility.
It is tempting to want to skip the darkness of cross and grave. It is tempting to want to move directly to the glory. But we can’t. We have to name the reality that change means death (in many different ways). We have to be willing to let go of the old before embracing the new. We have to visit the cross before we meet the stranger in the Garden.
During this Lenten season I encourage all of us to look at what is dying to make room for something new. I encourage all of us to look at what changes can or need to be made in our lives and in the corporate life of this community. I encourage all of us to have the courage to take the dark road, trusting that there is light and hope beyond cross and grave. For it is told that it is only by passing through death that we have life. In fact we do that many times throughout our lives – we pass through the death of what was into the life of what will be. God be our guide and companion. Amen.