We Are But Dust

Ash Wednesday

My husband and I recently moved. As friends and family have asked about our new place, we’ve given rave reviews until I sometimes end with, “I don’t exactly love that it faces a cemetery,” to which most people respond, “I would love that; it sounds peaceful!” I have no strong explanation as to why facing so many tombstones makes me uncomfortable. However, as I’ve prepared for Lent this year (the church season between Ash Wednesday and Easter), I’ve discovered a possible reason for my struggle: it is a glaring reminder to me of our frailty and the ultimate decay of our bodies. It painfully points me to the loved ones I have lost and can no longer hold. 

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return. 

God spoke these somber words to Adam as he and Eve were being placed outside the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). The creation story had taken a heartbreaking turn, and things were no longer "very good"; humanity’s relationship and communion with the Lord had drastically changed from what was intended. Whether this phrase was emphasizing the endless toil humanity would face or was specifically referencing death, it highlights our weakness. Every time we see dirt on the ground, it is an uncomfortable reminder of where we are returning someday. It is also a humbling reminder that without the gift of life and breath from our Creator, we, like Adam and Eve, would never have been more than dirt. 

This Lenten season is meant to be a time of remembrance, repentance, fasting, emptying, and surrender as we journey with Christ to the cross. We remember our weakness and inability to experience anything life-giving without God’s hand at work. We reflect on the times we have chosen sin and life apart from God, and we cry out for forgiveness. We fast from the things that threaten to take our dependence off God alone. Finally, we empty ourselves and surrender our wills to the God who so desperately wants a relationship with us.

There is hope, of course. This season will lead us to the resurrection of Christ and the promise of a new creation; sin and decay will not prevail, God’s glory will radiate, and only God will reign. As much as we may want to, though, we can’t skip over the journey to get there. Jesus Himself traveled through the desert wasteland after His baptism. He ministered in ways that put His own body and life in danger. He found Himself praying with His face to the ground, approaching a death He did not deserve. 

We can be confident that the story is “to be continued,” but during this season let us sit in our humility and weakness as we journey with Christ. Let us remember that from dust we have come, and to dust we will return.