Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. If these words don’t put our lives into perspective, I don’t know what will!
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. These words remind us that we are made of cosmic dust. iIt’s the same dust spoken of in Genesis 1 that swirled in all directions when the earth was “a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” It’s the same dust that the holy breath of God moved and gathered together until it formed day and night, stars and planets, earth and sea, land and sky, animals and birds, sea creatures and creepy crawly things. It’s the same dust that God took and formed into human beings, blowing the breath of life into us. It’s the same dust that we will become again, no matter how much plastic surgery, liposuction or botox we subject our bodies too. These mortal coils we inhabit, as William Blake once called them, will return to dust, even if they are embalmed and entombed. There is no escaping it!
But there is hope! This cosmic dust that was placed on our foreheads tonight is made in the sign of the cross. While the cross is a symbol of torture and death, and those who hung Jesus on it hoped he would quickly return to dust, we know the story ended much differently. Jesus, did not return to dust but rose from the grave that first Easter morning. Those who follow him, who follow the way of the cross, believe that death is not the end. Although our bodies may return to dust, our spirits were created to last for eternity.
This is the journey of the season of Lent: It begins with dust but ends with hope. If we take the time to listen to what this season is trying to tell us, it has a profound effect on the way we lives our lives. When we remember we are dust and to dust we shall return, it humbles us. It strips away any illusions we have about being indestructible and invincible. These bodies are fragile containers and life is sacred, precious, and holy. Therefore, as we maintain a “dust perspective,” it nurtures in us the qualities of humility, generosity, and gratefulness. We savor each experience, every person, every moment, because these things do not come to us in an endless supply.
The book of Ecclesiastes remind us of this truth in words that couldn’t be any clearer: “I have seen what is best for people to do on earth: they should eat, drink, and enjoy the work they have during their short time here. God has given them these few days, and that is all they have. [Ecc 5:18, ERV] Life is short. Every moment and experience is priceless. The only way we remember this is by hearing those difficult words: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
So where does this phrase comes from and why does it mark the beginning of the season of Lent? Well, the phrase come from Genesis 3:19. It is spoken by God after human beings have made a mess of things. And when human begins make a mess of things, there are always consequences to our actions!
So God says to ADAHM, the human God made from dust, “Because you have…eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
God reminds ADAHM that he is mortal. He is also told that actions have consequences. Nothing we do affects only us. We are connected to one other, and to all of creation, in ways we can barely comprehend. Everything is made of the same cosmic dust, so why should our connectedness to all of creation surprise us? Yet, we need to be reminded of these things, because we humans can quickly become self-centered and narcissistic. It happened to ADAHM. It happens to us as well.
So, as we begin the season of Lent, it’s important for us to hear these words that were spoken to the first human being. If we listen to the story of ADAHM, it serves as a reminder that in spite of our best intentions, we get a little dusty and muddy along the way. We make bad decisions and let our emotions get the best of us. We sometimes hurt the ones we love, and ignore the suffering of our neighbors. We pretend we are in control, when deep down inside we often have no earthly idea what we are doing!
This is all a part of the human journey. It has been so since the beginning of creation. No one is immune from getting dust under their fingernails and in their hearts. It doesn’t matter whether we’re rich or poor, young or old, we all reach for that forbidden fruit every once in a while. When we taste it, we discover that it may look pretty on the outside, but inside it’s rotten to the core.
So, friends in Christ, I wish us all a “dust perspective” this Lenten season. May we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. May these words help us to savor all that life has to offer. May its truth act as a mirror through which we can see our faults and failures more clearly. May it encourage us to show others humility, generosity and compassion. Most of all, may our “dust perspective,” draw us closer to Jesus who offers us love, forgiveness and new life. AMEN.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck