"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
These words, which I will utter repeatedly today while tracing a small cross with ashes on the forehead of a person kneeling before me, are pretty simple and straight forward. They are a reminder of mortality. However, they are also more.
In Genesis, one of the accounts of creation pictures God digging in the earth. The clay ground (adamah) is formed into a man (adam) into which God breathes His Spirit (ruah = breath, spirit, wind). It is a reminder that we are dependent beings. We are creatures, i.e., created. Our existence is real, but it is derived and it is not the basis of reality. It is very easy to imagine a world wherein you or I do not exist. In fact, history tells us that we are not needed. We are not necessary. God, on the other hand, is needed and is necessary for creation. Everything relies on Him.
The great rebellion on the part of man (and woman) is the decision to lay claim on God's status for ourselves. It is the desire to make God answerable to us, to judge God by our standards. Sin is the embrace of the illogical assertion that I can make my own way in the world and I can choose what I think it best. Sin is, therefore, arrogance.
We all do it. When we critique the world God made or question His commandments. When we seek what we desire and call it good, regardless of what we are told to the contrary. We all share this common state, whether believer or atheist, whether nominal Christian or committed. We all forget who we are and what we are.
Today, briefly, we are reminded. In the end, we are not so very important. We are born, we live, we die, we disappear into dust. We are destined to be dust again. A reminder which we must take to heart.
So is that it? No. The reminder, that we are dust, is also a call, to wonder how dust can be animated and build skyscrapers, bake cakes, sing and dance and play ball. How can dust write novels, laugh at jokes and hold children? How can dust write blogs and create the internet? It is the breath, the breath of God, which animates us and makes us real. Real boys and girls. Real men and women. Dependent beings, yes, but dependent upon a God who is sustaining us each moment, even when we doubt His existence and criticize His every move.
So today we repent. We begin a season of repentance. A time to deny ourselves, to grow in faith and love. A time to discipline our desires and focus more intently on the Lord and His ways. Lent is a gift from God to His church, a church full of dust men and dust women. A church full of rebelious citizens of His kingdom. Yet, also a church full of His beloved children gifted to bless and be blessed. WE are dust, we shall return to dust, but we are also so much more. Our final destiny, after the grave, is GLORY!