Our service for Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the church’s Lenten journey. We have entered the season of preparation for Easter, a period of forty days during which we consider what it means to be human, to be who God created us to be.
The ashes that were used to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads that night were made from last year’s branches from Palm Sunday. Over the years, the pastoral task of preparing the ashes has become a sacramental act for me.
As I have done most years, I waited until Ash Wednesday to burn the palms, which meant that I had to battle the gale-force winds that marked that afternoon here. I had asked my son, Aaron (3 years old), to assist me, and his presence was more help than he will ever fully know.
It became an amazing time of prayer. I gave thanks for the hands who had held those branches last year, pausing occasionally to remember the hands of those no longer with us who may have held one of the branches being burned. I prayed for those who would soon be visibly marked by the cross of Christ with these very ashes.
And all the while, my Aaron would run by with a pinwheel spinning wildly in the wind. Every now and then, I would say to Aaron, “Remember, Aaron, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And without stopping, he would shout back, “I don’t want to be dust.”
I was so tempted to agree. His being dust meant that he would one day die.
His being dust meant that he was vulnerable to all the pains from which I want to protect him.
His being dust brought to mind all the frailty and uncertainty of human life.
Even still, he is dust, as am I and all whom I love.
“I don’t want to be dust,” he would call. “But you are,” I would call back.
What remains for him to learn is that he is dust into which God has breathed the breath of life. He is dust made into the very image of God, to shout glory to God’s name, and to follow the One who even now leads us to the Cross and tomb.
I invite you to keep a holy Lent by joining with the community of dust that by God’s grace becomes a community of faith alive with the breath of God.