Each Ash Wednesday I am reminded of the words of the committal part of the Funeral service which go “Because God has chosen to call our brother/sister from this life to himself, we commit his/her body to the earth for we are dust and unto dust we shall return.” A form of those words are spoken for the very first time in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says to them – “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return.”
We are by nature and deed – a walking, talking, thinking, doing package of dust and ashes. There is not much value in dust and ashes. Gardeners know that it can be used to help grow plants – but basically it is worthless. In fact it is often less than worthless.
So why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Why do we gather and remember what we are on this cold winter night? Well – the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Jesus.
God has given us a way out of our plight of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. It is the way of the Cross. The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing a sign of infinite value upon that which would otherwise be worthless. Tonight it is for us to know and realize that God has chosen to give us some other life than that which leads to the dust heap.
And all that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy, that we remember we are sinners, and repent and believe in his Son. And he asks us too that we try to practice a piety that is based on his love – instead of being motivated by thoughts of human praise or reward that we try to show a righteousness that is based on His goodness – instead of being motivated by thoughts of demonstrating our virtue.
God has committed himself to us – and given to us a sign of that commitment – the cross. Tonight we come to take upon ourselves that sign – we come to commit ourselves to God and the way that his Son has shown us.
We come to remember the words of the committal service, the words that do not stop with “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, but continue on to say “the Lord Jesus Christ will change our mortal bodies to be like his in glory, for he is risen, the firstborn from the dead..”
These words we should always remember – for we are born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ – a hope that comes to us because of the mercy and the love of God for his people; a hope that comes because God has acted in and through Jesus to open the way to new life to all who repent and believe in the good news that he proclaimed.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. Amen.