“Remember you are dust” – a short sermon for Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18

Ash Wednesday is a call to remember who we are:
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 
It is a call to remembrance and to repentance, to turning again:
“turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ”. 
Again and again we are called to turn and re-turn 
to the knowledge of who we are in relation to God. 

Ash Wednesday is not about pretending 
that we are less than we are, 
or that we are more than we are. 
It is not, as our gospel reminds us, 
about “practising piety in order to be seen”. 
It is above all about honesty. 
We are dust. 
Which is not to say we are nothing. 
Not at all. 
God makes beautiful things out of dust. 

God who breathes life into dust and earth and ashes, 
with the promise of resurrection hope, 
knows already and has always known what we today admit: 
that we are fallible, fragile, frail creatures; 
that we mess up and we cannot always put things right; 
that we are utterly, totally dependant on God. 
And God, seeing us for who we truly are, 
meets us with infinite mercy, love and grace. 

We turn today to the season of Lent, 
in which the traditional disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving 
are designed to call us back to who we are, 
in relation to God, to our neighbour, and to ourselves. 

As we watch with horror the unfolding invasion of Ukraine, 
as we allow ourselves to be disturbed – as we should be – 
by wars and rumours of wars,
as we bring that disturbance before God in prayer
for peace and for justice,
we need more than ever this Lent 
to find and hold fast to those things
which draw us into that turn towards God. 

And as we turn, we see already on the horizon the cross, 
symbol of the worst that humans can do to one another, 
of pain and suffering and death, 
of sin writ large on the body of the sinless Christ. 
And beyond that, the far-off glimpse of Easter dawn, 
radiant light which still overcomes the darkness. 

All that is to come. 
But for now, we stand at this turning point, 
this moment when we accept the call 
to remember who we are before the holiness of God. 

In repentance, 
in turning again to God who knows us and loves us, 
in confessing the sins which God already knows 
and is always ready to forgive, 
we come before God honestly and without shame to say: 
this is who we are. 
Dust. 
Beloved stardust stuff. 
And God meets us in the dust, 
in the ashes, 
and in the ordinary stuff of bread and wine, 
with deep and transforming grace. 

Followed by Jan Richardson’s poem, Blessing the Dust: https://paintedprayerbook.com/2013/02/08/ash-wednesday-blessing-the-dust/

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