From Ashes to Ashes

Matthew 6: 1-6; 16-21

by Rev. Charles Jenkin Mendoza

Each Ash Wednesday we are reminded of the words of the burial part of the Funeral service which go “Therefore we commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

A form of those words are spoken for the very first time in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  God says to them – “Dust thou art, and to dust thou shall return.”

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.  A very important reminder that’s why we arose and for this reason, we shall return.  We are by nature and deed – a walking, talking, thinking, doing package of dust and ashes. 

There is not much value in dust and ashes.  Gardeners know that it can be used to help grow plants – but basically it is worthless.   In fact it is often less than worthless – it is a hindrance and a liability.  You can’t make it pretty by painting it, or smell good by spraying perfume on it.  Dust is dust, ashes are ashes – and the plain truth is they both are largely to be avoided.

And that is us too.  When all is said and done – righteousness is like rags upon us; our good quality is but a spray of perfume upon thoughts and feelings and deeds that are best buried and forgotten.

So why do we bother today marking ashes on our foreheads?  Why do we gather and remember what and who we are this morning?

Well – the answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, we also gather to remember who God is – and what God has done for us in and through Christ Jesus. We gather – because – all other factors are not equal.

God has given us a way out of our difficulty of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.   It is the way of the Cross.   The death of Jesus was God’s way of placing a sign of infinite value upon that which would otherwise be worthless.  Today, it is for us to know and realize that God has chosen to give us some other life than that which leads to the pile of dust and the ash pit. 

And all that God asks of us in this is that we accept his mercy, that we remember we are sinners, and repent and believe in his Son, Jesus.

And he asks us too that we try to practice a holiness that is based on his love – instead of being motivated by thoughts of human praise or reward, which we try to show a righteousness that is based on His goodness – instead of being motivated by thoughts of demonstrating our good quality.

God has committed himself to us – and given to us a sign of that commitment – the cross.  Today we come to take upon ourselves that sign – we come to commit ourselves to God and the way that his Son has shown us. 

We come to remember the words of the funeral service, the words that do not stop with “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, but continue on to say “trusting in God’s great mercy by which we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

These words we should always remember – for we are born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ – a hope that comes to us because of the mercy and the love of God for his people; a hope that comes because God has acted in and through Jesus to open the way to new life to all who repent and believe in the good news that he proclaimed.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.  Amen.