By Rev. Rebecca Migliore
Dust. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Dust is such a lowly thing. The serpent’s curse is to slither in the dust. Dust is dirty—we want to wash the dust off ourselves when we come in from the road. Dust. The other famous phrase about dust is one of my favorite lessons from Scripture. When you aren’t welcomed. When you are laughed at, or discounted, or bullied—“Shake the dust off your feet, and move on.”
Dust. That is what we are marking ourselves with today/tonight. Dust. A reminder that we are mortal. A reminder that in the grand scheme of things, we could be inconsequential. A reminder that there is so much more than ourselves.
And yet, what is dust? It is earth, ground, soil. Earth, as in, earthling, made of the earth. Ground, as in the ground on which we stand. Soil, as in that needed for things to grow. We often come to this time hanging our heads, for we are dust. But dust is what we were.
God took the dust and fashioned us. God mixed the dust with water and became the potter. God the potter and we the clay. Shaped and molded and spun and pressed. Fired in the furnace of trials and tribulations. Made strong to withstand the years.
When we press the dust to our foreheads, let us remember that this dust is melded with the water of our baptisms. Dust and water. Some say, star dust and water. With the magic of God’s love added into the mixture.
Yes, we are dust. Dust that has been scooped up and mixed with the water of life, dust that has been breathed upon with the sparkle of Spirit breath, dust that has been crafted and spoken about and named and loved into being.
Dust on our foreheads is a reminder of who we were, before the Creator decided to create, before the Maker decided to make, before the God of love decided to call us beloved. The world sees a smudge, a mark, a sign of sin. But God sees our beginning, our essence, and our end. For we will never go back to being just dust again. We have been touched. We have been brought to life. We have been called children of God. And that is what matters.
As the Apostle Paul put it, “for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV).
So whether you are marked in-person with ashes, or are marked virtually by closing your eyes and imagining the imprint of gritty stuff on the middle of your forehead, wear it with gratitude and wonder and a sense of purpose. We are God’s handiwork. We are the hands and feet and heart and lips of God in our world.
We are dust. We are earth. We are ground. We are soil. And we can’t wait to see what God has planted in us for this Lenten season; what will blossom and grow and ripen, if only we tend it, together, with water and sun and care.
May it be so. Amen and Amen.