Some Dusty Reflections

"dust you are and to dust you will return."
Genesis 3:19 (ANIV)

There's cheery!

But those are the words that are used at "ashing" ceremonies the world over this Ash Wednesday. Words that have shaped Christian funeral liturgies:
"earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust"

Traditionally that is finished off saying:
"in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life"
or words to that effect, or, if for whatever reason, the officiant is hedging their bets they will, instead, say something like:
"commending them to the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father God."
I reflected last year on the "dustiness" of our existence, following a particularly moving scattering of ashes one morning... It contrasted with another burial of ashes later that same day, which was conducted in the pouring rain, with little sense or expectation of life beyond this one... In the first the deceased and their family all had a strong faith in Jesus which was sadly lacking in the second experience.

Ash Wednesday, and Lent in general, is not simply a reminder of our mortality, but also that the immortal became mortal for our sake. That he identified with us in our bodily limitations, and temptations, "yet without sin" (Hebrews 4: 15). He became as we are so that we might become as he is.

In his book "God is Closer than You Think" John Ortberg repeats Ray van der Laan's supposed 1st century Jewish Blessing "May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi." and tells the story from the Talmud of a Jewish disciple who was so determined to emulate his rabbi that he followed him everywhere, even hiding under his rabbi's marital bed... Thankfully none of my own congregation have done the same... They would certainly have got covered in dust under my bed but would learn little that is edifying!

Some suggest that van der Laan's blessing is a bit of an urban theological myth, although if so it is a pervasive one that has accummulated supposed references in the Mishnah and elsewhere... but if it wasn't a blessing, it should be... Throughout your Lent journey, and beyond, may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi, and saviour Jesus.

If you haven't yet come across some resources to help you on your Lenten pilgimage, you could worse than check out Christian Aid's "Count your Blessings" material. For those of you who aren't fasting from social media you can ever follow it on Facebook and Twitter. Today's reflection ends with the following prayer:
Gracious God
Abounding in steadfast love
Knowing that we are but dust
May we accept your gracious invitation
To inhabit your greater story.
Through the discipline of prayer and contemplation
May we recognise our own desires,
May we find the freedom to let go,
May we embrace our powerlessness,
May we stand with the powerless of the world,
And may we glimpse the power of your life
That transcends death.



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