Dust of the Earth: Ash Wednesday 2017

By the Rev. Justin Clemente

For he himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust.”(Psalm 103:14)

Ash Wednesday, like the Bible, is brutally, wonderfully, completely, and boldly honest about who we are apart from God. We’re dust. And this accurate, because we don’t just need renovation or revitalization, but resurrection. Dust represents our spiritual condition because of sin. Spiritually speaking, it’s who we are. This condition permeates us. As Paul put it, “[We] were dead in trespasses and sins.” What can you do with dust? What can it do for itself? I’ve never seen dust-hacks on Pinterest, have you?  Dryer lint maybe, but not dust. This is where we begin tonight. In fact, knowing this, embracing this, is a prerequisite for the journey to the cross, which is the journey of everyone who knows Christ Jesus. Every sojourner in Lent who wishes to see the end of the path must be utterly convinced of this.

And with this in mind we say “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” not simply to be morbid, but find out anew and wonder anew at what God can do with even the dust of the Earth. As I think on this my mind goes to a particularly scene in the life of Jesus. Do you remember that time when Jesus bent down and wrote in the dust and dirt of the Earth? It happened in John 8 when the woman caught in adultery was brought to him:

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:5-7)

It’s a beautiful picture – our Maker, come to Earth, reaching down to touch the dust of the earth, to bring new life to us by his Cross & Resurrection. His whole life was about this. That’s what he did for the woman: “Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”  And that’s what he does for all who trust in him to raise them from the ashes and deadness of sin, both now and in the world to come. As our Psalm this evening puts it, God not only know what we are, he’s going to do something about it: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us…and he redeems our lives from the grave.”

So we start our journey. We’re bound for glory, we’re bound for resurrection, but it starts with acknowledging that we are dust. What about you? Will you remain as dust, or will you join the long line of sojourners on the road to the cross and Jesus’ glorious resurrection? Amen.