Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The creation story in Genesis 2 begins with dust. God forms a little earth-creature out of the dust of the ground and blows breath into the creature to bring it to life. We call the earth-creature “Adam,” from the Hebrew word for earth, Adamah. Since then, every earth-creature has been formed in a sense from the dust of the earth, the elements that God brought forth in creation, dusty elements to which our bodies will one day return.
Yet it is not only death that Ash Wednesday reminds us of – it is life. For it is God’s breath that brought us to life, and God’s breath that brings nourishment to every cell of our bodies, every hour. When we are reborn in Holy Baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked by the breath of God as Christ’s own forever. United with Christ, we are invited into everlasting life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The life of the Spirit is not something we earn or control. It is a free gift of the God who breathed us into existence. Our human desire, like the earth-creatures in the Garden of Eden, is to put ourselves in the place of God. This was how the serpent tempted the humans in the Garden: “You will be like God.” On Ash Wednesday, we remember that attempting to be like God is futile. We cannot earn our way to everlasting life. We can only accept it as the free gift offered to us through Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday reminds us not only of death; it reminds us of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
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