On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, ashes are bestowed in the form of a cross. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” A rite inspired by the Book of Genesis.
In the first creation account, Genesis I, God creates the world in 6 days. On the 6th day he creates human beings in his image and likeness, giving them dominion over the earth and its creatures. On the 7th day God rests, finding everything very good.
The second creation account, Genesis 2, offers another version of the creation story. Instead of watery chaos, God creates from a dusty earth, enlivened by a stream of water. “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. “ (Genesis 2, 7-8)
God, like a farmer, creates a world that’s a garden, with trees “delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Adam and Eve take fruit from that forbidden tree and begin to feel the consequences immediately.
Where are you?” God asks Adam, hiding naked in the garden. The question is asked, not in judgment or in anger, but from love and concern. “Where are you?” a merciful God asks..
“Where are you?” The sentence for disobedience is already being carried out. The two do not die physically immediately, they live on for hundreds of years, scripture says. But forms of death and a new uneasiness disturb their relationship with each other, with the animal world, and with the earth itself.
They blame each other. “The woman made me do it.” Their relationship with each other has changed. Their relationship with the animal world is broken; they’re betrayed by the wisest of animals, the snake. The earth that gave them abundant food and drink and a delightful beauty becomes hard and unyielding. The first physical death recorded in Genesis is the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Violence enters the world.
When God asks “Where are you?” death has already come. God is not leveling a sentence. God comes in loving kindness to the creature made in his image. A God of mercy comes.
God fashions garments of skin for Adam and Eve as they’re driven from the garden. God promises a woman, a new Eve, will be mother of all the living.
The Jewish scribes who fashioned the ancient creation stories into the Book of Genesis end it with God’s call and promise to Abraham. A merciful God does not abandon the world he made . A new people will bring life to the world.
We symbolize the Genesis story in the ashes, placed on us in the form of a Cross. Jesus Christ comes to enliven all creation. God so loves the world he made.