Remember that You are Dust and to Dust You Shall Return
As I write this, it is the morning of Ash Wednesday, 2014. The Ash Wednesday service is my favorite service in the Christian year. (Yes, more than Easter!)
I think it all dates back to Ash Wednesday, 1994. I was on a Sabbatical leave and living in Capetown, South Africa. I was preacher in residence at St. George’s Cathedral in Capetown. St. George’s is the mother church of South African Anglicanism. I preached at St. George’s for three months and taught preaching to a group of Anglican priests.
At noon time on Ash Wednesday Barbara and I attended the Ash Wednesday service at St. George’s. The officiant at the service was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It came time for the congregants to come forward and receive the imposition of ashes. Barbara and I came forward, knelt, and Desmond placed the ashes with the outline of the cross on our foreheads, repeating those ancient words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Tonight Barbara and I will attend the Ash Wednesday service at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in our little village of Litchfield Park. It is always good to sit with her. For most of our marriage I have been sitting “up front” as a leader in worship, and she in the congregation.We will sit together and with all the other worshipers reflect on our lives–the things done, the things left undone.
And the climax of the service will be when my friend, the priest of St. Peter’s, the Rev. Gae Chalker, will impose ashes on us. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Not a bad thing to reflect upon our mortality. Samuel Johnson once quipped, “The thought that a man is to be executed at sunrise concentrates the attention wonderfully.”
I know I will be thinking about my life tonight in that service. I will review where I am, where I have been, and where I am going. I will ask God’s forgiveness for the many places where I have fallen short. And with God’s grace, and with the reminder of those ashes on my forehead, I hope to do a little better in the days ahead.