Ash Wednesday: March 6, 2019
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Assistant Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. These words on Ash Wednesday are a stark reminder of life’s flaws and the fragility. But these words also remind us of who we are, where we come from and to whom we shall return.
Consider the vast landscapes of the earth, the sandy desert, the ocean floor, the green forest, the sweltering jungle, the snowy peaks of the mountain, the wide grasslands, the rocky banks of a riverbed. What do all of these have in common?
Each of these contains the dust of the earth. Each of these is created by God to grow, support, and sustain life of all kinds. Dust, the lowest form of all God’s Creation, but by far the most beautifully adorned.
We are made of the dust of Eden, each of us carries God’s breath of life. Each and every day God breathes new life, a new spirit into us — new hope, new creation. Each day, we can choose to walk side by side with our loving Creator, to embrace our dusty nature and become humble, grounded, connected to all living things.
In his book, The Universe is a Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story, Physicist Brian Swimme offers this perspective on dust. He writes:
“The star could not by itself
Become aware of its own beauty or sacrifice.
But the star can, through us, reflect back on itself, in a sense,
YOU ARE THE STAR.
Look at your hand – do you claim it as your own?
Every element was forged in temperatures a million times hotter
Than molten rock, each atom fashioned in the blazing heat of the star,
Your eyes, your brain, your bones, all of you
Is composed of the star’s creation.
YOU ARE THAT STAR,
Brought into a form of life that enables life to reflect on itself.”
Remember you are stardust, and to the dust of stars you shall return. Remember you are dust born from the ashes of the brilliant, burning dawn of time. You are the dust of all beginnings, the dust of eternity. In you, the universe is seen, heard, loved, known.
Who would’ve thought the universe would need us…would need community to appreciate and integrate its growth and beauty. Much like the universe we too need community. Lent is a season to reflect, to grow, to appreciate our lives, a season to recognize that we need each other to note our own beauty and sacrifice.
The prophet Isaiah speaks this to the Israelites who have returned from their long exile in Babylon. Having spent generations apart from their community in Judea, the remnant of Israel returns to find their identity, their beliefs, their homeland has changed. The people found themselves living out of two different worldviews, divided by lifetimes of different values and experiences.
The Israelites learned that returning to dust does not mean things go back to the way they always were – no immediate return to joy, peace, and prosperity. For the dust to yield new creation, the community must reflect upon itself – must learn to appreciate the beauty and sacrifice of those who stayed and those who lived in exile – only then will they find a way forwards for new life, healing, and wholeness. Only then can they move towards oneness as a people and a nation.
This Lent, Isaiah encourages us to not just take on a spiritual practice or give something up, but to go one step further. To reflect on our lives with each other and consider what practice will help inform and transform who I am and what I will do for God, myself, and others. For true repentance, a true return to dust is not about shaming or blaming. Returning to dust is about re-turning our lives to God to be transformed by love in community.
“This is the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke…to share bread with the hungry, to satisfy the needs of the afflicted and bring housing to the homeless poor…to not hide away from our own families nor point fingers nor speak of evil.” Remain in community. (paraphrase Isaiah 58)
Remember we are dust – we are the dust of Eden, we are the dust of the firstborn stars, we are the dust of eternity. Breathe upon us breath of God and make us new, make us healed, make us whole, make us one with you and all things once more. Amen.