Remember, O Man, That Dust Thou Art

If you attend an Ash Wednesday service today (and I highly recommend that you do), chances are pretty good that the priest or minister who applies your ashes will say something along the lines of, “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”

The phrase comes from God’s punishment for the man, Adam, in Genesis 3, where God says to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.

When God breathed life into creation in Genesis 2, it wasn’t a one-and-done deal. In order for creation to continue to experience life, they had to maintain connection with God. So when they opted to eat the fruit that would make them like God rather than trust in tto-invent-your-own-lifes-meaning-is-not-easy-but-its-still-allowed-and-i-think-youll-be-happier-for-the-trouble-4he provision of the God they already had, they rejected God. And when they rejected God, they rejected the very source of their life.

And they began to die.

“Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”

Ash Wednesday is primarily a day of repentance. More than a day, actually. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a season of repentance, which is known as the Season of Lent.

In my particular denominational heritage, we have not historically observed Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent. But Ash Wednesday and Lent are good for us. It is good for us to establish habits of repentance and personal reflection. It is good for the church as a whole to take a sustained period of time to remind ourselves of the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s glory, and to reflect on the ways we crumble and decay when we remove ourselves from the source of life.

Ash Wednesday confronts us with the truth that we do not sustain ourselves. It is a reminder that when we separate ourselves from the Creator, we separate ourselves from the source of life. On Ash Wednesday, we face our own mortality and cast ourselves on the mercy of the God who is the creator and sustainer of life.

“Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.”

to-invent-your-own-lifes-meaning-is-not-easy-but-its-still-allowed-and-i-think-youll-be-happier-for-the-trouble-2But we also look forward on Ash Wednesday. After all, we may be ashes and dust, but we don’t have to stay ashes and dust. There’s a day coming soon where we  will celebrate the life that is found on the other side of death.

In 40 days (46, including Sundays), the ashes of death will be cast away in the victory of resurrection. In 40 days, we’ll celebrate that the Christ who died did not stay dead, but was resurrected to life. In 40 days, we will rejoice in our reconnection with the Source of Life who gives us a way out of the cycle of death.

But we’re not there yet.

Because if we forget our mortality, if we lose sight of the fact that we cannot sustain ourselves, then we run the risk of making the same mistake the Man and Woman did in the Garden of Eden. So on Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge our own insufficiency. We acknowledge that, in rejecting God, we also have rejected the life that God has given us.

So we embrace the ashes and the dust. We wear them on our foreheads, as a symbol of mourning. We fast for the day, and we surrender some our desires and habits for the season of Lent in an attempt to experience our own death. And we anticipate the joy of the resurrection when Christ calls us out of our death and into the joy of eternal connection with the only true source of life. So that even in the middle of a season of mourning and repentance, we can be encouraged to know that life is coming.

Remember, O man, that dust thou art. But also remember that God gives life to the dust that finds rest in God.


One thought on “Remember, O Man, That Dust Thou Art

  1. Thank you so much for your timely message! It is a shame that I have not included this important time of Lent into my life in the past.


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