Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Oftentimes we hear that and interpret its meaning as some sort of depressing reality.
Some sad curse.
I think of Solomon lamenting in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Or that horribly depressing song from the 70s by Kansas, “Dust in the Wind”
“everything is dust in the wind”
“all we are is dust in the wind”
Is that it?
Is that all there is?
To be fair, it is indeed meant to be a confrontation with death, so to speak.
Ashes are a symbol for death
thus are a reminder of our concrete, fixed place in the world.
But friends I invite you to expand your envision on this a bit and see this as blessing.
Not a curse.
Because understanding that we are dust and to dust we return is also a reminder that we are connected to creation.
And not just creation, but the heavens as well.
Quite literally in fact.
From a scientific point of view, the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made of star stuff.
We are made of star dust.
And by being connected to creation and the heavens— which were all been deemed “good” if you recall—
we are connected to the creator
The ashes remind us of this.
Ashes, the usual sign of death, are put on your forehead
but not in some random pattern— but in the shape of a cross.
This alters the starkness of the message of gloom from
“you will die, you cannot change that”
“yes, you will die, but you can die in Christ, whose death transforms your own demise into everlasting life. Christ has conquered death.
It’s important to note that we follow these ashes- this concrete symbol of death-
with the very real, living presence of Jesus in Holy Communion
So we move from this concrete symbol which reminds us of our finality
to the very otherworldly reality of divine power in holy communion
Because in Holy Communion we actually receive Christ.
This is very intentional.
In this movement in the service, we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ.
So all is not meaningless as Solomon might have suggested
And we are more than just “dust in the wind” as the song says
We are not stuck in death
In Christ we are reborn
So may this ritual remind you and prompt you to live into the life offered through Christ.
A new life that stands in contrast to the death of a life outside of Christ.
As Paul writes in Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”