“Remember, Man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Our Ash Wednesday services are overturned this year because of Covid19. No ashes on the forehead. They’re to be sprinkled on our heads. Not sure how many will go for that, so maybe we should look again at this popular rite opening the lenten season.
We think of ashes, dust, as signs of death. Going down to dust seems to say it over. But that line from the Book of Genesis can also mean we return to the soil, and the soil doesn’t say life is over. Soil also is where life begins again.
In fact, “Humans– despite their many accomplishments–owe their existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”
That’s the way Jesus sees it when he speaks of seed falling to the ground. It has to fall to the ground to bring life again. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)
In a letter, St. Paul of the Cross wrote about mystical death, which may help us think about today.
“Life means dying every day as servants and friends of God. ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ We undergo a mystical death.
“I’m confident you’ll be reborn to new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, as you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…
“What’s mystical death? It means concentrating on divine life, desiring God, accepting all God sends without worry. It means letting God work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go. Know that God is working there and being born in you as you mystically die. (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)
So God brings us to life as we go back to life’s soil. God will bring us new life; Jesus Christ tells us that in the mystery of his death and resurrection.
Whatever we do with the ashes this Ash Wednesday we bless them first with the Sign of the Cross. We’re blessed by God.
“O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? …Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ( 1 Corinthians 15, 55, 57)
On Ash Wednesday– Remember You Are Soil