“...and to dust you shall return.”
As I knelt in silence, eyes closed, I could sense the priest moving closer to me as he made his way slowly down the rail intoning those words. And then, as he stood before me, I raised my head slightly and felt his thumb trace the sign of a cross on my forehead. And once again, I heard those words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
The imposition of ashes (“dust”) on Ash Wednesday is a tactile reminder of our physical death and it is also an ancient symbol of man’s sorrow for violating the intended relationship with his Creator. While there is no mention of Ash Wednesday in the Bible, there is a tradition of the imposition of ashes as a sign of penitence. In Job 42:6, we read of Job’s repentance wherein he proclaims, “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Other stories of repentance and ashes can be found in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah; stories of cleansing, repentance and ashes leading to relief, release and redemption in the lives of God’s people.
And so, it is that every year Ash Wednesday is that moment in the liturgical calendar that marks the start of Lent, a season of introspection and reflection. It presents each of us with an opportunity to push the pause button on our life journey and sit (or kneel) before the throne of God as we contemplate the meaning of life, our brokenness and the immense love that God has for each of us.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a Holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.
BCP p. 265
May you each experience a holy and healing Lenten season as you remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Blessings and peace,