Sermon Archives

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Ash Wednesday
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Remember

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

With these stark words about our mortality and humanity, we begin a 40-day journey through the wilderness of human, earthy, dusty even, life.  We who take our vitamins and daily supplements, we who are subjecting our brains and bodies to ever increasing regimens of exercise are encouraged to remember that, in spite of it all, our bodies will eventually fail us.  In spite of all our efforts not only to extend life – and we have! – we have, in fact succeeded in nearly doubling the life expectancy of the world in little over a century; in spite of all our efforts not only to extend life but to improve the quality of our lives, death remain an inevitability for all of us, even the strongest of body and most sound of mind.  And so, we are encouraged to consider again the fact that no matter how brilliant our science becomes, no matter how careful our laws and protections may be, and no matter how rigorous our daily regimens are, death awaits us all.  We who have looked to the heavens for millennia, and even now fly through them, are encouraged to look down, if only for a little while.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

“Look down,” these words seem to say.  Look down into yourself, to remember something important about human, mortal life.  

For many of us, of course, a reminder of our humanity and mortality is neither necessary nor pleasant.  No matter how mightily we may resist, as our bodies age and weaken, the reality of our human frailty is brought increasingly, at times jarringly, to mind.  And yet, remembering our mortality is an important thing.  Remembering that we are passing away even now, that all that we have built up, our homes and our careers are passing away, that these things, these treasures, which we so cherish will, like us, return to the dust, is humbling invitation to consider what is eternal in this world.  What, in fact, does give you life?  It is not the house, but the memories within it; it is not the work, but the contribution we make to society; it was never the bank account, but the life and the good that it made possible for loved and strangers alike.  All these things will waste away, but something good will endure.  Don’t be fooled, earthly things are passing away – our bodies yes, but the houses we construct, the careers we make, the wealth we accumulate, these things too.  

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Remember your mortality, and, if you dare, cleave to those things that will endure.

These words, at least in the context of Ash Wednesday and the penitential season to come, have the effect of reminding us of our sin and brokenness, as well.  As the dark ashes are signed upon our brow, we might naturally recall the brokenness of our lives – not only the frailty of our bodies, but the imperfection of our hearts.  Kind as we are, generous as we hope to be, we can’t help but think of the opportunities for love and generosity, kindness and compassion that we have failed to offer.  If you are married or if you have children, you needn’t think too long or reach too far back to recall to mind a time when you spoke not with love and compassion, but with anger and contempt toward one whom you love with all your heart.  So, too, toward your neighbor – these dark ashes, have the ability to draw back to our heart and mind those times when we spoke uncharitably about a friend or colleague, when we chose greed and personal comfort over compassion and care, when we abused a stranger through inhospitality and disregard, or neglected the very earth upon which we live through waste and neglect.  

But it's not just our mortality and sin, however, that Ash Wednesday brings to mind.  As the burnt ashes are smudged upon our forehead, we are invited to remember, too, our humanity.  This is who I am – a man created from the same dust of Adam.  This is who you are – a man or a woman, created out of the same dust of Eve and Adam so long ago.  Before I became Drew or you became you, you were first a child of Adam and Eve, born of the earth, sharing the same blood and lineage of all humanity – intimately connected not only to your family, the “flesh and blood” of your kin, but to all the peoples of the earth, those who call this room and this community “home” and those, too, on distant shores who live with different customs and practices different faith, but share the same earthen dust from which we all come.  They are sisters and brothers, too.  And so, too, are the poor and destitute who live little more than a stone’s throw from us here; and those, too, who even now are wending their way through dangerous lands in the hopes of finding a new and better life here; before they were poor and before they were aliens or asylum seekers or immigrants, they were formed of the earth, from the very dust of Adam.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday and the penitential days that follow, aren’t meant to be a simple journey of self-mortification and regret, but a rich reminder of who we are – the mortal flesh and bone, and broken hearts and lives, common to all humanity.  

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Remember who you are. Mortal and broken; flesh and bone; dust of the earth.  But human, too; a sister and brother to all.