‘Remember that you are Dust, and to Dust you shall Return’
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our forty-day journey through Lent and, fittingly, it is a day on which we gather as a community to confess our sins. Ash Wednesday is a day for truth. We know that we are but dust. We know that we will die. We know that our lives and our world are not what God meant them to be, and we know that we need to confess our failures as individuals, and together as a community.
There is another theme in the Season of Lent, which is not primarily about giving things up, or taking more spiritual things on, although they may form part of the whole. Lent is about making ourselves ready to hear and receive the story once again. To hear the story as individuals, as a community and as citizens of the world. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is a story so rich, important and challenging that it takes a whole week to tell and walk through the story – it is the heart of the Christian Way. We do not just hear the story with our ears, we receive it in our hearts so that we might be changed, and at the beginning, on Ash Wednesday, we take the key image of the Cross and place it on our foreheads. So that anyone who sees us will know that we are marked as a follower of Jesus.
It takes forty days to prepare to hear the story, because we know that, if we truly listen, it will change us. We know that in some way, each one of us is a part of the cycle of violence and evil that chokes our world. The forty days of Lent help us to prepare for the new life of Easter, the resurrection life that sets us free from the fear of death and eternal desolation. But first we have to claim our dusty, earthly identity with all its faults, flaws and limitations, and then ask God for the blessing that lives within the ancient ashes:
‘So let us be marked, not for sorrow nor shame,but for claiming all that God can do,within the dust, within the dirt,of which our world is made.’