There’s nothing like a couple of bags of liturgical waste to clutter up a living space.
I know, because I’ve had a huge bag of gently-used palm branches stashed behind my office door since Palm Sunday of last year. One just like it from Palm Sunday 2012 sits on a shelf in my garage.
If you’ve ever seen the typical Presbyterian congregation waving their palm branches in the sanctuary, you know what I mean by gently-used. We may hold our eco-friendly palms high, but any movement is invisible to the naked eye. Aside from those used for palm branch sword fights while waiting for the processional to begin, our branches come out of our service as beautifully as they enter.
At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
My problem started when I became a better steward of our congregation’s ashes. My ash to forehead ratio has grown more efficient over my years of ministry, which means that I am now able to turn one year’s crop of palm branches into more than enough ashes to remind the congregation that they are dust.
And so I save the palm branches, even though I don’t need them, in what I like to believe is liturgical prudence. You know, I’m saving in the fat years for the lean years to come, or something like that.
I have come to think of those bags as dust in waiting.
I was thinking about that again yesterday as I spoke those ancient words over others: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And I thought about it even more when Pastor Ann traced the cross on my forehead and reminded me of my dust-i-tude.
It turns out I am dust in waiting as well.
It’s good to remember that every now and again, which is why I love Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday brings into focus God’s gift of life in the first place, and it also compels me in the strangest and best way to live it fully. I don’t want to spend my life just waiting to turn into dust. If I do, I’ll become like those bags of dried palms that just take up space and get in the way.
The night before Ash Wednesday was a terribly bitter night here, but I still went out to burn some palm leaves, even though I didn’t really need them. And as I watched those leaves turn to an ashy dust, I couldn’t help but notice that I wasn’t as cold and the night around me wasn’t so dark.
One day, my life will end and I will return to dust. But for now, I am dust in waiting.
I only hope that I will avoid just living some stashed-away and sitting-around life while I wait to turn to dust. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I want to become dust by catching fire.