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"... And to dust you will return"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning’ (Joel. 2:12). Who is this God who invites us to return to him? We might instinctively question the sort of relationship which seems to be presented to us. Are we asked to abase ourselves so that this parent will ‘graciously’ receive us back into His love? Where do these tears come from if they’re not the means by which we can earn the renewed toleration of the one whose anger we fear?

But what joy or freedom can there be in that kind of relationship? Why would God, who lovingly crafted us from the dust that is imposed on us today, want us to be anything other than what He made us to be: fully realised beings content in relationship with Himself. That guide desires us to be fully ourselves, at ease in the paths we were born to follow. Tears follow from the violence we do to our own person by becoming divided from our truest being. To return to God is not simply to supplicate to another but also to be reunited to ourselves.

The imposition of ashes that occurs in the Church’s liturgy today is a jarring note of reality. The ending of our mortal lives will be a final separation from the other selves that we choose or have forced upon us. The paradox here is that we are at our most free coming before God as beings acknowledging our own mortality. To know that we will return to dust is, for Christians, to reflect that we were made from dust singularly, as a result of God’s love which surpasses all we can know. Being aware of that love is to know ourselves as deeply valued for whom we really are. It is the journey of believers to find our truest self, the self which God made. It is a pilgrimage that, even with many years behind us, we have still only just begun.


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