Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Season of Lent. On this day, we come for worship services or blessings, where we receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. When the minister puts these ashes on our heads, they say the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words come from the story of the first humans in the book of Genesis, who were created from the dust (humus) of the earth. Later, after they disobeyed God’s command for them to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Lord God was grieved. Instead of obeying God, they had chosen to be their own gods. So, God told them, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). These words have rung in the ears of God’s people ever since. For generations throughout the pages of the Scriptures, we hear of repentant sinners, who put ashes on their heads, remembering that they are not God, but they are merely dust.
However, that curse of death is taken away in Christ Jesus, our Lord, who went to the cross for our sakes. For many of us, the cross of ashes on our foreheads is in the same place as the cross of oil at our baptisms, where we hear the words, “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever.” This ashen cross is placed in the same spot where many young children receive a cross from the pastors every Sunday on their way to the table of communion, saying, “Jesus loves you.” This cross of Ashes on Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are merely dust, that life is precious and short. And yet, it also reminds us that we finite creatures have been been loved by an infinite God, who, in Christ Jesus, lifts us up from the dust and gives us eternal life.