WEEK ONE: REPENTANCE
Genesis 3:17-19 (NRSV)
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.”
Every year on Ash Wednesday, the sign of the cross is made with ashes on our foreheads. The words said are a humbling, painful reminder for us all: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” One day, I will be dust. You will be dust. Lent takes us to dust; Lent reminds us of our broken sinfulness and even our insignificance. We are only able to find hope in these words because we know the rest of the story.
I have an Ash Wednesday confession. I wipe the ashes from my head before I go out in public. I like to assure myself that my reason for doing so is that my penitence is personal and private. I assure myself that I can serve as a better witness of Christ through my loving acts more than by having ashes on my head.
But to be honest, I wipe the ashes off because I am embarrassed. I am concerned that I will look foolish to someone who isn’t familiar with our faith practices. I am even more concerned that someone will consider me “Christian” but not in the way I would like. For many people, the Christian image is one of hypocrisy, condemnation, exclusivity and judgment- often rightfully so. I don’t want to be seen as one who does the exact opposite of what I think Jesus would want us to do.
Upon writing that last sentence I am returned to humble dust. How many times do I do “the exact opposite of what Jesus would want us to do?” Already this morning I’m aware of two:
- I am prideful about my image and what others think of me. Jesus suffered total humiliation and agony on the cross and yet I worry about what image the ashes on my forehead may create.
- I am a reluctant witness. I would rather avoid questions or confrontations, than hope for opportunities for conversation, sharing and understanding.
I am not being the person Jesus calls me to be.
Return. Return… to dust. The contrast between my prideful self-image concerns and the fact that I will be returned to the ground as insignificant dust is striking. “Return” is a good word to begin this Lenten journey.
Are there any ways you have done the “exact opposite of what Jesus would want us to do?”
What feelings arise as you think of one day returning to dust? What causes concern? What brings gratitude?
How does the word, “return” touch your heart today?
Today as we are reminded that we are insignificant dust, thank you for showing us that we are also your beloved friends and followers. Thank you for forgiving us every time we are not the people you have called us to be. As we begin this Lenten season, continue to reveal to us how we may grow and learn, always trusting that you love us anyway. Today we return to dust. But we also return to YOU. Thank you. Amen.