Ash Wednesday: showered with stars

By J. Mary Luti

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. 
 — Genesis 3:19

Halfway through the line, I almost lost it. Until that moment, I’d been in a ritual groove, looking my parishioners in the eye, dusting them with ashes, calmly delivering the ancient admonition: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.” One by one they came, listened, received. But halfway through, I faltered.

It wasn’t that I suddenly realized the gravity of what I was telling them — that they were breathtakingly fragile, that at any moment they could dissolve into elemental bits, that someday they would. I’d been feeling the heft of that truth all evening.

So, no, it wasn’t that I was giving them fatal news. It was that they wanted to hear it. It was that they’d lined up to hear it of their own free will. They knew exactly what the message was going to be, and still they inched their way toward the messenger.

My knees went wobbly as water. I wanted to wave them off, tell them they didn’t have to come, they could go sit down. But I knew no one would. That was the most stunning thing: Even if I’d said it, I knew no one would.

So I regrouped, kept tracing charred crosses, kept saying the old words. And they kept coming, one after another, offering me their foreheads with the trust of a child.

And when I told them they would die, some nodded. Some said “amen.” Some even smiled. They said “thank you,” as if, instead of sentencing them to death, I’d showered them with stars.

Prayer

Holy One, may I live this Lent in bare truth, total trust and knowing joy; for in life and in death, I belong to you.


J. Mary Luti is a retired seminary professor and United Church of Christ pastor. She shares prayers, sermons and marginal notes at Sicut Locutus Est.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.