“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Today is Ash Wednesday, the doorway to the forty days of Lent. We journey in this season toward the Resurrection of Christ and the amazing hope we receive through it of life eternal and joy unleashed.
But first there are ashes. First comes the sobering reminder that no matter how much we think we are fully in control of our busy and scattered lives, in the end we are merely mortal. To dust we shall return.
Not exactly the burst of hope we’re desperately needing in these disheartening days, is it?
Our current context and experience hardly requires further reminders of our finitude and mortality. This month marks a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout these ghastly pandemic years our vulnerability has been on full display as this stubborn virus has wreaked havoc with our world and taken nearly 6 million precious lives across the globe.
Our bodies and spirits are now a kind of tired we can barely describe. Communities of color are exhausted in additional ways the rest of us can’t even comprehend, besieged by constant and violent reminders that they still are not afforded the same protections and privileges that others take for granted. Little seems reliable any more, the only constant the ceaseless churn of change.
And now we witness daily the horror of war as Russian forces and artillery decimate Ukraine. Despite the inspiring courage and perseverance of the Ukrainian people, the cruel toll of war is already adding up: deaths of soldiers and civilians; the destruction of cities; the desperate fleeing of Ukrainians from the nation they love; the moral injury to all involved.
Ash heaps surround us.
This Ash Wednesday, and in the days of Lent that follow, we likely don’t need reminding of our fragility in this life. But our full awareness of just how vulnerable we are can draw us nearer to God in a way that is more honest, more humble. It can strip our normal defenses and help us embrace our reliance on God more readily. We can come before God, eyes tearing and spirits sagging, hungrier for the enfolding grace and abundant mercy God provides. We draw nearer to God, trusting that God also draws nearer to us. These are the practices of a faithful Lenten journey.
O God, our need of you is so clear. Receive with gentleness our frail spirits and exhausted bodies. Help us sink gratefully into the sure promises of your abiding mercies and to trust in your constant love and presence. Amen.
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister