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Remember that you are dust

Last Wednesday I facilitated much of our church’s observance of Ash Wednesday, leading out in the reading of Scripture, confession, and the application of ashes. I have done this many years before and it has always been a profound time of mediation on the salvation of the Gospel, but this year it was unique. For the first time it was I alone who applied the ashes, meaning that I got to apply them to every person in the congregation (a mere 20 people, perhaps not a great feat by conventional counting standards, but still).

This meant not only applying the ashes and declaring to my loved ones (almost all of whom I’ve known deeply for years), “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” but helping many of them kneel and get back to their feet without falling down. In the time I’ve known so many people in my church I’ve seen people get much further along in years and watched their health change (and watched one sister die). Declaring their mortality to them as I supported their weight, clasping their arm to keep them from falling or slipping — that was a different experience. The proclamation of mortality was so much more deeply real, not because of anything in the liturgy, but because of the truly real, truly tangible presence of Christ to me in these concrete people with whom I am united.

Feeling the trembling hands and supporting the feeble knees of people I have known for years,  telling them that they are destined to return to dust, and that our sole hope lies in God’s utterly new act of resurrection from the dead, that was something beautiful and frightening to me. I knew as I applied the ashes and spoke those words that I would walk with these people through their deaths and visit their graves when they quite literally have returned to dust. I knew then, once again, how deeply vulnerable and defenseless we all are before the ravages of this broken world. And I knew then, once again, that in these broken vessels, in the process of returning to dust, was the light of Christ, the bringer of new creation, new life, and unlimited hope, a hope that is not seen.


  1. Hill wrote:

    This sounds like liturgy, my friend. Are you trying to get your card revoked?!??! I deeply regret not getting ashes this year. Next thing I know you are going to be venerating the cross on Good Friday.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    We typically do the stations of the cross on Good Friday and have for several years. Hell we even have a footwashing and cover the alter (well its more like a table) on Maundy Thursday.

    Just cuz I don’t think liturgy is God doesn’t mean I’m a hater.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    I was totally kidding. I dig what you guys are doing.

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I know. Remember, pig roast in June. You still in the Bay area?

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Joel Gonzaga wrote:

    I’m glad that many still appreciate Ash Wednesday. I was so glad that I got the evening off!

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  6. Thanks for sharing this Halden. These kinds of personal reflections about your community are the most meaningful to me, obliged. (ps do you have the stations of the cross there at your community or do you go somewhere else, and what kind of art are the stations comprised of, bas relief, paintings? I have started a series myself but it’s slow going and I only have one done, ‘The Disposition.’

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

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