Next week most people think of as Valentine’s Week but on Wednesday Christians throughout the world keep the fast of Ash Wednesday. It’s not a guilt ridden morbid self-depricating day. It is a time of humility and recognition. We are in charge of our destiny but our destiny is a pile of dust. We make plans, we devise schemes, and we have dreams but they end in dust. You can be the greatest builder, thinker, or philosopher but it all ends the same way. That doesn’t mean we have to be depressed and downcast.
In 1 John 2:1 it says, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” The definition of sin is not so much breaking rules but “missing the mark.” We all aim for something but we don’t quite hit what we are aiming for. That is the story of our life. Truly wise people understand the humility of this statement. The message of Ash Wednesday is this, “I’m not ok, you’re not ok, but with God that’s ok.” As the creation story goes God started with dust and so you can be recreated from dust and breath. The breath of God – or Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim רוח אלוהים) is what gives us life now and new life beyond what we comprehend. That new life is not found in arrogance but in humility.
So if you go to a service this week, and if the ashes are placed on your forehead, and if in humility you recognize your place in creation – then remember that “dust you were and to dust you shall return” does not mean an ending but a new beginning. As a new creation the Spirit of God is about to breathe new life into this dusty old soul.