Ash Wednesday: February 10, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
These familiar words on Ash Wednesday often leave us on a rather somber, sober note.
For the memory of dust reminds us of our own mortality—that fated day when we all must return to the earth and become dust once more. The memory of dust reminds us of our own imperfect, sinful nature—the dirty dust from which we are formed follows us throughout our lives.
As creatures of dust, tinged with imperfection and impermanence, we remember on this day our own limitations as human beings. But the memory of dust reminds us of more than our own mortality and sins. In dust all things return to the earth, but in dust new life is springing up. Dust reminds us that we are an integral part of God’s creation specially formed to receive the breath of life and spirit of grace that only God can bestow. Specially formed from the earth to be the ground that bears the fruit of Christ–the fruit of life, death, and rebirth in God.
Out of our dusty, dirty beginnings, God breathed the breath of life and we became living beings—living souls capable of great goodness. Out of the same dust Christ, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit so that we may be constantly redeemed and re-formed as something new—something good. As we begin this season of Lent, I’d like to reflect on the wonderful nature of our dust and how the ground that forms our being specially forms us to be grounded in God.
As we know, the season of Lent is thick with themes of repentance. And by its very nature, dust teaches us how to repent. In its beginning, dust is inanimate, lifeless, barren. It is a dark and empty ground waiting to receive new life.
For us repentance means emptying ourselves of those thoughts or actions that are not life-giving—to turn again towards God like dust of the earth grounded in emptiness ready to receive. For it is only in letting go that we are ready to receive the fullness of God’s grace. To be empty for God having nothing and yet possessing everything. For then we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.
On the outside, dust appears worthless. Inwardly, dust becomes invaluable, possessing nutrients and minerals that hold the key to enriching all forms of life. And yet, for all its riches, dust cannot create growth on its own. The dusty soil must absorb sunlight and water inwardly into its own gifts to slowly, quietly nurture new life in another.
Dust reminds us that we too possess invaluable gifts made to enrich the lives of others. Like dust, our gifts are made to absorb the light of Christ to be watered by the Holy Spirit so that we too may slowly, quietly grow the goodness of God’s love and bear the fruits of his Holy Spirt in the world. And like the dusty soil, we must first be nourished
before we are able to nourish another.
Dust remains the lowest part in all Creation, but by far the most beautifully adorned. It exists in many forms and places over all the earth. In landscapes of desert, mountain,
ocean, rain forest, river, meadow, field and valley—over all this terrain is laid the crowning beauty of God’s Creation.
Like dust, we too exist in many forms and landscapes. And like the many forms of dust in Creation, we too are capable of bearing the beauty of God in diverse and wonderful ways. We are made lowly and humble as dust so that the vibrant glory of God can flourish across the landscapes of our lives.
Dust teaches us not to boast or draw attention to ourselves. Because we don’t need to…God will do the work for us. All we must do is seek to lower ourselves, humble ourselves enough to see the face of Christ—even in dust. To see the glorious figure of the Last Adam who from dust was made man, who from the cross returned to dust and who from dust was restored to new life.
We dwellers of dust, remember and return to the humble, goodly dust of our beginnings. For the nature of our dust reminds us we are specially formed to repent—to be empty before God that we may be filled by God. Dust reminds us we must first be nourished by God to then nourish others. Dust reminds us to be humble and lowly that we may be raised once again to bear the richness and beauty of God in the world.
We dwellers of dust—remember we are dust—remember we are that lowly lovely dust of the earth, and to that lowly, lovely dust we shall return grounded in God. Amen.