February 18, 2015
Psalm 51-1-17; Joel 2:1-2; 12-17
From Dust to Goodness
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the word we hear and meditate on from our Ash Wednesday service tonight. We can hear this gloomy word when we participate in the committal service at the cemetery which goes “This body we commit to the ground earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We can also find this term “dust” in the creation story from the Genesis. When Adam and Eve disobeyed and violated God’s command that they must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God spoke to them, “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return” (Gen. 2:19). Following Adam and Eve’s destiny, all human beings arose from dust and shall return to dust. Thus, we can say that human beings are by nature a walking, talking, thinking, and acting dust.
How precious is dust to us? Farmers know that it can be used to help grow plants; potters may need it for their artistic works, but basically it is worthless. We can try to make it look good or smell good by painting it or by spraying perfume on it, but dust is dust, ashes are ashes, and they are largely out of our attention.
Sadly, human life is like dust. We rejoice in our days; we work hard; we are beautiful and shiny; we are striving hard to make things better and right in the world. But all our attempts, all our success, all our goodness will be forgotten soon after we end with death.
So why do we gather on this cold winter night? Why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Do we come tonight only to recognize how useless and vulnerable our human life is as we hear “ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Well, the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is and what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.
God has given humanity a way out of our destiny of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We believe and know that it is Jesus Christ our Lord who has transformed and overcome human destiny, from dust to eternity. How did he do that? Did he paint our bodies with his glory or spray perfume on our bodies? No. The way “out” is the way of the cross. The first Adam disobeyed God and thus left us the tragic separation from God our Creator. But Jesus who came as the second Adam was obedient to the point of death that everyone who believes in him is blessed to be God’s child and inherit God’s kingdom. The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing reconciliation and salvation upon our destiny which would otherwise be worthless.
What is then our price for God’s gift? All that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy that we remember we are sinners and repent and believe in what Jesus has done for us. The New Testament clearly proclaims that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our righteousness.
As we accept Jesus as our Savior, however, God asks us to do one more thing: try to practice a piety that is based on his love and try to show a righteousness that is based on his goodness. Because we are still dust and ashes while living on earth, we will never be perfect like Jesus Christ. However, because we have the Spirit of Jesus in our mortal bodies, we will never give up, but always strive hard to make our life of dust be the life of love and righteousness until we move to eternal life in heaven.
God has committed himself to us and given to us a sign of that commitment, the cross. Tonight, we come to meditate on and take upon ourselves the cross, the sign of obedience, the sign of endurance, the sign of forgiveness, the sign of reconciliation, the sign of faithfulness in God.
As we take it upon ourselves, let us also remember that we are not just dust and ashes but God’s precious creations. We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We carry a hope that we are not only invited to eternal life in heaven but also called to build and spread his kingdom of peace and love here in our communities. We are now carrying and practicing the life of the cross on which Jesus forgave all humanity. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory. Amen.