ASH WEDNESDAY – February 25, 2009
A Meditation based on Genesis 2:7 & John 9
By the Rev. Walter D. Clark
Reproduced with permission
"Remember that dust you are and to dust you shall return."
Lent is a season of remembering – remembering that not only are we not God; we are dust. "Remember, O man, that dust you are."
DUST: The Bible's way of pointing to our perishability, our impermanence, our impotence, our finiteness. Dust settles for a while and then is swept away.
In general, we are embarrassed, even repulsed by dust. By preference we choose to think of things other than dust and to regard ourselves as something more than dust. When we wish to praise people, we call them "jewels" or "gems" or "diamond in the rough". When we wish to denigrate people, we call them "fluff" or "scum" or "dirt". But seldom, if ever, do we call people "dust".
Only in the Bible are we called dust. Not only that, we are commanded to remember we are but dust. Why? Because in the biblical view dust, more than fine gold, is considered the most precious substance of all.
In Genesis we read: "The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." Dust is precious because God considers it precious. Picture no one less than God stooping low to the earth; gathering a handful of dust; and molding it into the very image of himself. God took what was seemingly worthless and made it imperishably worthy. Out of virtually nothing God brought forth somebody. Into the temporal God instilled the eternal.
Centuries later, in the Gospel of John, Jesus reenacts the creation story when he, of all people, stoops low to the ground and spits upon it to make a paste with which he daubs the eyes of the man born blind. "Go and wash" he says to him. And so, as we do in baptism, the man goes and washes, and when he returns, he can see.
Seemingly ignominious dust returning vision to one who could not see because of his participation in Sin which blinds us to the fact that we are but dust. Jesus, the light of life and the light of all, gives sight and insight to the blind by coming down to earth to gather up a handful of dirt. And behold, out of nobody comes somebody. Out of the less than human, with all its arrogant potential for cruelty and violence, comes somebody capable of loving, persons clothed in dignity and integrity and humility. Out of blindness comes sight. Out of deafness comes hearing.
Lent is a time to remember what we are – a season once again to recover our need for God. "Blessed are those who know their need for God," said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed because ever so frequently we fall prey to following too much the devices and desires of our own hearts that inevitably push us towards self-destruction. And when we follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we transform ourselves into dispirited, aimless nobodies with no one to rescue us until we are again met by the risen Christ who Emmaus road-like assigns ultimate value to the dust we are by breathing into us new and eternal life. What a story of love and compassion it is! How right it is to make this story the centerpiece of our Lenten contemplation! And as we do, may each of us become greater agents and distributors of this same love and compassion to a world in need, beginning with our own community. AMEN.
The Rev. Walter D. Clark | Beckford Parish | Woodstock, Virginia | Mt. Jackson, Virginia