'You are dust and to dust you shall return'
"Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26
We're mid-way through the season of Lent. It started a few weeks ago with Ash Wednesday. Our tradition uses this period to intentionally consider what it means for us to live our Christian faith.
On Ash Wednesday, people step forward for the Imposition of the Ashes, and as they do, they hear the words: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" while the pastor dips a fingertip in a small bowl of ashes and marks a cross on their forehead.
That phrase comes near the end of the story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As part of that larger story, we see it's about our chaotic relationships and our fear of death being tied together because of our separation from God.
Throughout the Bible, we find "ashes" being used in lots of different ways, and in many of these instances, there's this overlapping idea about us being separated or alienated from God. I suspect in our own quiet moments we recall times when we thought we were beyond the reach of God's love.
The Bible records times when the afflicted or penitent sat in ashes or even wallowed in ashes because they thought God was too far away to be any good to them or any use for them.
Wallowing in ashes? That got me thinking; maybe we could do more with this ashen cross that's on our forehead for a night.
Maybe if we kept that cross there until the beginning of Holy Week; that incredibly intense week right before Easter as Jesus entered Jerusalem with all those events that arose on His way to His death on the cross and His resurrection on Easter.
What if we made sure those ash drawn crosses were still on our foreheads when we came to church on Easter morning? And as we were handed our hymnal and bulletin, we'd also get a handi-wipe.
As we stand and sing our opening hymn of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" only then would we wipe off those ashes. ("Jesus Christ is Risen Today" is a traditional opening hymn celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Sunday).
I'm not trying to re-write our Lenten traditions, but I am trying to get us to consider through this imaginative process the larger and greater expanse of the history of God and God's people. And in that expansive history, we find God's people in all kinds of circumstances desperate to know God is there.
Recognizing the enormity of this should compel us to use Lent in actively setting aside time to move ourselves more deeply into the question of what it means for us to live out the faith that we hold in our hearts. This faith that rises up out of God's love for all and that we know and see and believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That this would cause us to know God's word and ways so intimately that this love becomes the ongoing relationship of God to us and to the world. It would have us drawing upon that vision in the Psalm where heaven and earth converge and that inseparable relationship with God outweighs everything else.
And this then opens up for all people the possibility of being in the right relationship with both God and with neighbor only because Jesus carries God's faithfulness throughout the generations and to the whole world.
Where Jesus Christ comes as God's gracious act of generosity for us that's beyond our imagining, yet at the same time, He is our calling to live as generously as we can, and to live generously with all.
Michael Wilson is the pastor of Prineville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at 541-447-1017.