A pastor friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to a song by a group named Kansas. The song is called "Dust in the Wind." I seem to remember the song. I think it is from the 80s perhaps. The song has a refrain that sweeps through it that is the same as the title...."all we are is dust in the wind." Not a very happy thought but one that I always say as we are concluding a funeral in the cemetery. One of the last phrases I mutter is, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Then I say a final prayer, shake hands with the family, and invite everyone to return to the church fellowship hall where there is food waiting for us. We want to get away from the cemetery as fast as we can and get back to a place where life surrounds us instead of death. We don't want to hear "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" too often because it reminds us of our own mortality that surrounds us daily. We may sing, along with Kansas, the melancholy refrain, "all we are is dust in the wind" but the real meaning does not sink in until we stand with the mourners in the cemetery, ready to get it over with and return to the church into the life that will surround us.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent. We are beginning again the journey with Christ to his ultimate destination, a cross that stands on a hill just outside of Jerusalem. The journey each year always begins in the wilderness, with Jesus all alone, hungry and thirsty and having extraordinary visions of evil taunting and tempting him. Jesus overcomes the forces that would destroy him and returns to life among the living, picking up 12 helpers along the way and beginning a ministry that will lead him to Jerusalem eventually. We have to walk the road with Jesus for 40 days. We have to think again about the parables he tells, the miracles he performs, the conversations he has with those closest to him. We have to re-examine our own lives as we reflect upon the Christian journey and what it means to us daily. We have to reflect upon what it means to wear the name "Christian" and to follow in the way of the cross. Lent is very demanding if we are serious about it.
I usually do not say "from dust you have come and to dust you will return" when I make the mark of the ashes on the foreheads of those in line in church on Ash Wednesday. The Book of Worship says that I can say that or the more cheerful "Repent--and Believe the Gospel." I opt for the second phrase because I think that it gives us a goal to achieve rather than a solemnity to absorb. I think it also reflects the purpose of Lent--change. Repentance is not done just to make up for some sin we have committed. The goal of repentance is to bring about change in one's life so we do not continue to make the same mistakes that led us to have to repent in the first place. So, as I mark the cross in ashes on someone's forehead and say, "Repent and Believe the Gospel," I intend for those words to whack them on the forehead along with the ashes to remind them of the change that awaits them at the end of the Lenten Season.
Ash Wednesday is a new beginning, kind of like another New Year's Day, another chance to start over, another opportunity to do it right. So, let Lent speak to you and think about what each day brings you, and maybe when you are eating the treats on Easter Sunday that you denied yourself all through Lent, you will have a new perspective on life, faith, and the Christian journey.