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  • Jean Holt

Dust and Ashes

"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey.  This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.

Dust and Ashes

“Dust and ashes: these symbolize two themes at the heart of Lent: our creaturely mortality and our moral culpability,” (Bobby Gross)

To remember that we are mortal is the beginning of realizing our great need for something outside ourselves.Acknowledging that we will indeed die, can help us turn from the altar of self-absorption to the altar of Christ. It helps us remember that like Job as we encounter God we can say: 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. “Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6 NIV)

 “A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see – far away—the destination. It is the joy of Easter; it is the entrance into the glory of the kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter that makes Lent’s sadness bright and our Lenten effort a “spiritual spring.” The night may be long and dark, but all the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon.” (Alexander


Some of us are too familiar with the idea of our mortality. Some of us have lost loved ones in the last year. We don’t need to be reminded of mortality – and yet this day we are given permission to feel that loss – to mourn that death.


There is an irony here. We start Lent by acknowledging our mortality and we end it knowing that “death has been swallowed up in victory.” Because of the Resurrected Christ, we can say – “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? (1 Cor 15:54, 55) From the Old Testament we see how God ultimately deals with death "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces…"

(Isaiah 25:8) From the beginning of the Scriptures to the end we find God’s final intent about death: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21:4)


From dust we come unto dust we return. As we walk the path toward Easter, we have to confess a second reality. We are sinners, without a hope of saving ourselves. So, we are marked on this day with ashes in the shape of a cross. Ashes in the Old Testament referred to mourning and repentance. We are called to acknowledge our culpability, our responsibility in the decay of this world, in the injustice of a world where every day we see

senseless brutality and killing. We see the effects of our greed, our neglect all around us. The ashes tell us we must repent. Job, after accusing God of injustice comes face to face with Him and says this: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6). But take note – We receive the ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross and what this means is that

Christ has taken both our mortality and our moral failure and bore them on the Cross. The Message translates it like this in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

" Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

Who got the last word, oh, Death?

Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ.Thank God!"

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Perhaps many of us don’t come from traditions that practiced Lent. I did not. But I’ve come to treasure it so much over the years; in part, because it allows us to follow the journey of Christ from His temptation in the desert all the way through to His resurrection! We can take to heart again what Christ has done for us. It slows us down in much the same way as Advent and in an intentional manner helps us to remember. While dust and ashes are signs of our vulnerability and culpability – we do not have to be perpetually sad! Ash Wednesday and this season of Lent give you cause for joy in the midst of sorrow, grace in the midst of trial!

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