By Russ Ramsey
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
These are the words a priest utters as he smears a cross of ashes onto his congregant’s forehead during an Ash Wednesday service. It’s a somber declaration. In fact, some instead say, “Remember that you have to die.”
For more than a thousand years, Christians around the world have begun the Lenten season this way: with the sober acknowledgement that with humanity came sin, and with sin came death. We are free, but not required, to do the same.
So what is Ash Wednesday, and why do many Christians observe it?
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. During Lent, we focus on our need for the death and resurrection of Jesus; we focus on our need to be forgiven. Ash Wednesday is a day where we take a page from the book of Job and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). We remember that from the dust we were made and to the dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). We remember that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and yes, we all must die (Romans 3:23).
Ash Wednesday is a day of hope. Without Christ, the words “remember that you have to die” are hard ones. But with Christ, they are a reminder that, though our bodies will one day return to dust, we have already been given the hope of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to publicly profess our faith. The ashen cross the congregant wears is an outward sign of both repentance and hope. People see the mark of the cross at their work, in class, and at the grocery store. Wearing the ashes is a way to repent of our rebellion against God and “confess our sins one to another” (James 5:16).
On Ash Wednesday we admit our limits and acknowledge the brevity of this life. Whether in a formal Ash Wednesday service or privately in our homes, we can use tomorrow, the first day of the Lenten season, to remember that from the dust we were made and to the dust we shall return. Even so, in Christ, we live in the eternal hope of the resurrection.
Written By Russ Ramsey
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11 thoughts on "From Dust to Dust"
Just thinking about Job and verse 42:6. He talks about his repentance in dust and in ashes. We are to see our selfs in that light, even though we live, we die. Each day we live, we die in this earthly body, at the very same time. Live and die with that repenting heart, each day, each nite. For His mercy given to us is so overwhelming, so outreached; We , our hearts , our love for Him and His glory should always burn without ceasing. God I love you , I love you. This was a lifting message today. Thank you Lord.
I used to ask myself, “since life is so short, the why even try?” Even Solomon said “it’s all just chasing after the wind.” But as time has gone on I’ve learned that life has a purpose and each person has gifts that they can use for his glory if they pursue those gifts. No my question is “Lord what do you want me to do for you with this life on earth? Who do you want me to reach out to?” Often those people are right in front of me.
It’s a scary thought to think about how one will die. We will return to the earth. But the beautiful thing is that while death is promised, so is eternal salvation and resurrection. We will rise up again to be with our King. That gives me hope that death won’t be the end.
“To dust you shall return”–a powerful reminder of our weaknesses and of the human condition, that all must die. However as a Christian, death in many ways is a new beginning. Jesus calls us every day to a death to ourselves; by taking up the cross each day and sacrificing our lives to Him in full, ultimately making our life not one for our own, but for Him.
For most, this is not an easy thing. Our own pride holds us strongly from wanting to lay it all down, the good and the bad, at His feet. But this is the death that brings life! As we learn to do this and try to make it a daily part of our lives, we must pray for each other. That in this process of laying down our fears, our struggles, temptations, and failures, that Christ will strengthen, empower, protect, and deliver us–for this we must pray and He WILL never fail us.
For the duration of Lent, let us learn to focus on our call to the cross–to meet Jesus where death has been overcome–and to pray for one another so that we may be healed and raised up in Him and his plans for each of us to bring glory to His name.
It always amazes me how easy it is to forget the importance of repentance. So often I appreciate the confession, and jump straight into the forgiveness without appreciating the time, energy, and choice that is required in order to actually turn, and set off on a different route! Jesus, this Lenten season, help me walk faithfully down a different path, marked by repentance and the hope to which you’ve called me!
It’s a sobering thought – being reminded of the fact that we all must die and that we all deserve to. I’m excited to give up Facebook for lent because I find myself wanting to tap the app whenever I’m waiting for something or bored. I’ve been redirecting that boredom to thinking about Christ and it’s been really refreshing. Lent is hitting me in a new way this year, especially because I’ve never taken it seriously or given anything up before.
To remember that we came from dust and that we will return to dust is a very humbling concept. We think that some of us are better than others when in reality we all started from the same and we will all end the same. I think remembering this concept can be one of the quickest ways we can humble ourselves, nothing we can do or be can change the fact that we will return to dust.
Our church has started Ash Wednesday services in the pat few years. I write this a few days following that service. It was short but a great springboard into our Lenten services on Sunday focused on “Close Encounters at the Cross”. I really need this!
Acknowledging the brevity of our existence instills humility in our character. Our conceit is thwarted by the knowledge that we were made from dust and dust is our final destination. We are sinful creatures who deserve death and darkness for our transgressions. However, Christ paid our price. He was the Perfect Lamb that took on the sins of the world that we might be able to find communion with a perfect God. We can do nothing by our own accord to earn this redemption. Instead, this redemption is a gift, freely given, through the Grace of our Creator Father. He is light and the source of righteousness. In order to live a life of purpose, we must find our place in the service of His Kingdom. Thank you, Father, for your immeasurable mercy and grace.
It is important to not only be fully aware of our brokenness and subsequent need for a savior but to also remember we are temporary men; our bodies have a limited shelf-life due to the curse that followed the disobedience and rebelliousness of our grandparents, Adam and Eve.
Our bodies will give out after 80+ years and with that knowledge we should humbly focus on ensuring our spirit is in tune with our eternal Creator.
My God, my Savior, my Master, my Father oh how I have forgotten of the sacrifice you have made for me. Ohh how I have forgotten what it feels like to follow You. I have tried to stumble through this life on my own and I cannot bear the weight anymore. Lord I have lost my joy, my hope, and my compassion. My heart has been hardened and my spirit has become angry. Please understand that I know, in the depths of my soul, that I do not deserve your grace, your love, or your forgiveness. I am sorry for all that I have done and all that I have forgotten. Please forgive me for acting foolishly and living a life that is not worthy. Please draw me to You again. Let me lay my life before Your feet and worship You once again. Use me for your kingdom oh Lord, and let my life not be one that is lived as though it ends in the dust . Remind me Lord that I am Yours, that you purchased me for a price that is far greater than I am worth. I do not deserve Your grace, Your love, or Your forgiveness, but You have offered it ALL nonetheless and I need Your help accepting it. You have called me to a life beyond the dust and Lord I need Your help, I need Your forgiveness, I need Your joy, I need Your grace, and I need the hope that only You can offer. I am tired, I am broken, and I am beat down from attempting to live a selfish prideful life. I am ready to come home Abba. Draw me closer to you oh Lord and when I wonder off please remind me of the sweetness of Your love and that Your grace has covered everything I have done and everything I will do. Remind me that a life without You is no life at all.
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