“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return;
but the steadfast love of our Lord endures forever.”
On Wednesday I repeated these words over and over. Each time with a new face, a new story. Each time with a new revelation of what it means to be God’s child, to be a minister, to be human.
On Ash Wednesday, we receive ashes and think about our mortality. We ponder the ways we are like dust, like ash. We think about the end and what that means for each of us. As a minister (or minister-in-training or whatever you’d call me), I was charged with imposing ashes. In that role, I watched faces become somber as I reminded them of their humanity. Some needed no reminder. Doctor’s appointments, cancer treatments, surgerys and age have caused plenty of opportunities to think about end-of-life. Perhaps it was more a reminder for me to consider the fragile state in which all of life’s relationships reside. This week, one of our church members lost her mother. Another lost a husband. One is currently hospitalized after suffering a stroke.
Remember that you are dust.
I thought about how much I’ve come to love the people who stood in front of me. Those who have supported me in a new place, in a new role at church, as a seminary student. Those who rejoiced with me as I got married. Those who have loved me and loved members of my family before me. Those who have helped shape my husband into the man with whom I am continuously falling in love. Those who have become sisters and brothers — and perhaps crazy uncles or grandmothers. What a weighty task to remind them that life is fleeting.
And to dust you will return.
As I dipped my thumb into ash and brushed it across foreheads and palms, I was marking folks for death. The ash dripped from my fingers, dropping in places I couldn’t predict or control. Perhaps even there, death had a mind of its own.
Once the line dwindled, I walked over to Allyn, who was also imposing ashes. He dipped his finger into the bowl and began marking me. “Jennifer, you are dust.” In that moment we both realized its truth. The rest of the words came slowly, deliberately. “You can’t die.” “I’m sorry, but I will.” We sat down, hand in hand, trusting and hoping that the steadfast love of our Lord does endure forever.